It happened during a sleepover. A campfire accident left Ryan DeMott of Harlan, Iowa, with severe third-degree burns covering 70 percent of his body.
He was rushed to the local hospital and then airlifted to a medical center in Lincoln, Neb. The injuries were life threatening; Ryan’s parents, Wendy and Bill Mueller and John DeMott, were cautioned to brace for the worst.
“That’s a very sobering experience,” Wendy says. “Your life is turned upside down in a matter of seconds.”
Ryan spent the next five weeks in Lincoln, where the doctors began to excise the burns and perform skin-graft procedures. Complications shortly arose, however, when he started having breathing difficulties—tracheal stenosis, or a narrowing of the windpipe. Ryan’s medical team recommended that he be transferred to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, where specialists could treat his burns and his airway problems.
“They immediately assessed the situation and did surgery that night to resolve Ryan’s breathing issue,” Wendy says. “That was the beginning of the next two-and-a-half-months of our lives at UI Children’s Hospital.
Burn treatment and recovery is a slow, delicate, and often excruciatingly painful process. Ryan’s care included multiple operations—skin grafting procedures plus surgeries to address recurring respiratory problems. He also had daily physical and occupational therapy to help him regain movement and mobility as well as “tub room” sessions to keep treated burn areas and skin-graft donor sites clean and infection-free.
“We were told it was going to be tough for Ryan... and us, too,” Bill says. “But they helped ease our anxieties, and that allowed us to be there for Ryan.”
“They treated us like family,” Wendy adds. “The doctors, nurses, the Child Life specialists who came every day to play games or watch videos with Ryan and take his mind off things— they were fantastic.
Ryan’s love of the Iowa Hawkeyes was an added source of inspiration. During difficult times, Wendy and Bill would roll their son’s wheelchair up to the hospital windows so he could see Kinnick Stadium across the street— an image that helped strengthen Ryan’s resolve. And on several occasions he received special visitors: Hawkeye football players who stopped by to wish Ryan well.
Following his discharge from the UI Burn Treatment Center, Ryan spent six weeks at a rehabilitation facility in Waterloo. Today, he continues therapy in Harlan and returns to UI Children’s Hospital for follow-up visits. With his can-do attitude, each day is a positive step— Ryan is back in school, he’s active, and he’s glad to be home with his parents, little sister Macy, and their dogs, Truman and Kinnick. Ryan also attended the Miracle Burn Camp at Camp Foster in East Lake Okoboji—a weeklong UI-sponsored outing for young burn patients from Iowa and surrounding states to have fun and make new friends.
“Ryan’s doing great, and the care he received has made all the difference,” Bill says. “You always have the highest dreams for your children, and we’ve been blessed to have those dreams still alive.”