Burned mom gets steadily stronger

Woman who suffered terrible burns saving her children from fire remains hopeful

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Steve Mellon, Post-GazetteCrystal Hauser, shown here on the day she was released from West Penn Hospital, on April 16, 2007, suffered severe burns over nearly half of her body.
Click image above to a multimedia report documenting Crystal Hauser's journey through fire and pain to recovery and a return home with her two children.

A month after her discharge from Western Pennsylvania Hospital's burn unit, the young mother from Bayard, W.Va., who saved the lives of herself and her children when their trailer burned is getting steadily stronger and is hopeful about the future.

Crystal Hauser, 22, her husband, John, and sons J.J. and Lee were at the hospital yesterday for a checkup. She is making excellent progress, her doctors said.

Although there are mornings when she feels like she can't get out of bed, "I do have really, really good days," Mrs. Hauser said. She joked that her husband "knew I was getting better ... when I started bickering at him again."

Nearly half of her body was severely burned on Feb. 24 when she reached through a flaming bed to grab J.J. and carry him to safety. She was about seven months pregnant at the time, and baby Lee was delivered by Caesarean section a week after the fire. Now he weighs 7 pounds, 7 ounces.

J.J. was burned, too, although not as extensively. But because he is still growing, he will need more skin graft procedures as he gets older.

Mrs. Hauser can handle light cleaning and laundry, although it's still hard to manage the stairs. When it's rainy and cool, her back, which was severely burned and required skin grafts, tightens up. She still has trouble with handwriting, and hasn't been able to resume her studies to finish her high school equivalency program.

Physiotherapy five times a week has strengthened her legs and improved the mobility of her arms. She said she hopes that working hard on the exercises will allow her to avoid surgery to release the tight, scarred skin that limits her ability to fully extend her arms.

"I don't want to be put back in the hospital," Mrs. Hauser said, adding that she misses the doctors, nurses and other staff, who "were more like friends" to her.

Her husband's employer-provided health insurance covered most of the medical bills, but they still owe thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Mrs. Hauser said she is thankful for the many good wishes and donations the family has received.

For now, they live in Oakland, Md., at the home of Mrs. Hauser's parents-in-law, but they intend to eventually either build a house of their own or move to one nearby.

They also have applied to ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," in which a team of designers and construction experts rebuild homes for deserving families.

In the aftermath of the ordeal, the Hausers have become closer.

"We spend more time together as a family," Mrs. Hauser said. "We make sure we make time for each other."

Donations can be sent to Clear Mountain Bank, 12599 Garrett Highway, Oakland, MD 21550. Checks should be made out to the "J.J. Hauser Family Fund."

Anita Srikameswaran can be reached at anitas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3858.


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