Evelin Fatima Duran: Continuing the Journey
By Jessica Irven, MS, LRT/CTS, CCLS
At 17 years old, Evelin Fatima Duran is caring, well spoken, and brave. She dreams of making a difference in the world and using her life experience to help others. Wise beyond her years, Evelin does indeed have a story to tell—one of surviving a burn injury and subsequent amputation of her right arm; one of recovery, rehabilitation, and acceptance; one of striving to continue her journey in a way that helps others.
Evelin, who lives in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, where she was born and raised, has ambitions of becoming a motivational speaker for other young people, “to tell them about my experience and how I’ve grown, and help them to accept where they are.” Evelin’s journey as a survivor and the barriers she’s faced have required much acceptance, but also strength.
“Life’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. There are obstacles, but it’s not impossible,” she insists. This outlook is undoubtedly a major part of what has brought her this far—and what will help her to find a way to meet her goals.
On June 20, 2009, while playing outside with friends, Evelin, then 14 years old, accidentally picked up a high-voltage cable. She has no memory of the electrical burn—or anything that happened for the next week. Evelin awoke at the Shriners Hospitals for Children—Cincinnati, nearly 2,000 miles from home, surrounded by lights and machinery. Yet she could not recall why she was in a hospital…nor really begin to comprehend what the nurse told her. She’d had an accident—a bad burn—and she’d lost her right arm.
Facing the Medical Challenges
“At the beginning I thought, ‘Okay, that’s alright.’ I really didn’t react,” recalls Evelin. “But then as time went on, I realized that’s not okay.” Taking time to process and accept the reality of any injury, much less the impact it will have on your life, naturally takes time. Facing the life changes, big and small—from how she would feed herself and get through daily life, to where exactly that life was going—would take a great deal of strength.
Evelin’s journey would include 8 months of initial treatment: 4 months in the intensive care unit, another month on the acute floor, and the rest spent doing rehabilitation therapy, while she and her mother, who was by her side every step of the way, stayed in a family care unit room at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati. Then she was transferred to Shriners Hospitals in Houston and Galveston for prosthetic training and ongoing burn care.
Her medical treatment and rehabilitation were one component of a long journey that kept her far from friends and family.
“At first it was very hard,” explains Evelin, “We were isolated because of language.” During a time she calls “very emotional,” she remembers “lots of pain, lots of drugs.” Yet even in the midst of dealing with healing, therapy, and the cultural issues she and her mother faced, Evelin’s strength helped to carry her.
“With time, it kept getting better and better and now I look back at an experience that was a growth opportunity for me,” she says. Evelin describes her injury as a “wake-up call,” teaching her to live each moment to the fullest.
The biggest challenge for Evelin during her recovery was learning to walk again. But she credits the many people who supported her as she healed, including hospital staff who found ways to motivate her daily and engage her in her own care, as well as a friend from a local church who helped Evelin and her mother deal with the challenges of being in unfamiliar surroundings.
Dealing With a Difficult Return Home
Leaving the supportive environment of the hospital brought Evelin an entirely new set of challenges. She returned home initially for 21 days, wearing a new prosthetic and looking forward to her quinceañera, a celebration of her milestone 15th birthday, where she would be surrounded by her loved ones, whom she hadn’t seen in many months. But there were huge hurdles to overcome there as well. She discovered that her injury and time away from home had had a major impact on her family also.
“My sister was very jealous because my mom was spending so much time with me and didn’t think my mom loved her anymore,” says Evelin. Her sister’s reaction wasn’t unusual, but that feeling of resentment or even abandonment when a parent or caregiver’s attention is diverted to a hospitalized family member can be an isolating one. “I went back anticipating that it would be a happy moment to see everyone and everything would be the way it was before. It was very difficult when my sister reacted that way,” she recalls.
Evelin encountered additional challenges in her hometown and surrounding communities. “There’s a lot of discrimination in the area where I live toward people with any kind of handicap,” she explains.
Returning home ready to enter her third year of high school, the teenager found acceptance from her classmates, teachers, and some school administrators. However, the school director decided that she would not be re-admitted.
“He thought I wouldn’t be able to do the same things that a person with two arms would be able to do,” Evelin says. But Evelin has in fact found many ways to adapt to the tasks of everyday life. “When I have to tie my shoes, I use my mouth to hold one of the cords, and use one hand,” she explains. “I have learned different ways to put on makeup too.” Evelin does everything necessary to get through the day.
“I was very, very sad,” she says of his decision, “because I wanted to be back with my friends, I wanted to be their classmate again, I wanted to be like my life was before.”
Evelin was advised to enroll in an “open” school that required independent study and actual attendance at the school only for administered exams, denying the eager student all classroom learning experiences and peer interaction. With no other option, Evelin continued her studies there.
Once she was ready for preparatory exams, which would have allowed her to go on to advanced schooling, Evelin encountered additional obstacles. “I would go to take entrance test, and papers would be ‘lost’… I went to several schools to try to get in.” Eventually, Evelin and her family realized that the not-so-subtle barriers that were put in her path would keep her out of school in her local area.
Evelin was frustrated at being limited by others’ incorrect assumptions about her abilities. “I was sad but also I was angry because I just didn’t understand why they wouldn’t accept me; I could do anything that I needed to even though I only did it with one hand,” she says.
With Hope, Finding Support and Strength
For now, Evelin helps out at home, assisting her mother in taking care of her brothers and sisters. She travels back to the Shriners Hospitals for Children—Galveston several times each year for further treatments, including surgery. As much as possible, she spends time with friends and dreams about her future like any other teen.
“I like to dance, get together with my friends, and talk about girl things, and I like to talk to my friends about how hard it is to be not accepted in the school; my friends have always been very supportive. They’re with me in the good times and the bad times,” she says.
Despite the challenges she’s encountered, Evelin still has hopes and dreams. She’d like to learn other languages and find a way to continue her education, possibly outside of her country, maybe even moving to the United States for greater access to opportunities. She looks forward to using her education to help others. “I would really like to be a person who works with people like me who have been rejected and help them find a way to be accepted and find a way to study,” says Evelin.
Evelin fears that she will encounter more of the same type of barriers, both subtle and overt. “I’m afraid that some people won’t be able to support me in my quest,” she says, “afraid too many people are going to give me advice and not let me make decisions on my own about my future.”
With hope, Evelin continues onward, finding support and strength and looking forward to finding ways to continue her journey. With the assistance of Shriners Hospitals for Children, Evelin has participated in the UBelong program at Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress each year since 2010. It has helped her find strength and support in the shared experiences of other survivors. “I have learned to become stronger against any setbacks,” says Evelin. “I need to accept myself as I am. You need to attack your problems face to face.”
She also describes the benefits of such supportive programming for her mother, who also survives the experience of Evelin’s injury and subsequent treatment each and every day. “UBelong and World Burn Congress were like a light that my mother needed to guide us through this dark time in our lives,” explains Evelin. “It’s been very difficult for my mom too.”
For all burn survivors as well as family members, Evelin says, it’s about continuing on the journey. “We should always walk with our heads held high, not let other people make us feel that we are a lesser person or let them discriminate against us. And we should accept ourselves the way we are; and be strong, because the journey is not easy a lot of times, but we have to continue the journey.”
For more information on support programs for young burn survivors, their siblings and parents, contact Phoenix Society at 1-800-888-2876.
Jessica Irven, MS, LRT/CTRS, CCLS, is a licensed and certified recreational therapist and certified child life specialist. She specializes in supportive programming for those affected by illness and injury, and has been involved in Phoenix Society’s Young Adult Workshops and UBelong programming.