'It's a miracle.' Woman who fell into Yellowstone hot spring released from hospital

Laiha Slayton before being burned at Yellowstone National Park, left, and being treated at EIRMC in Idaho Falls. She has been released from the hospital. (Kamilla Slayton)

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — A woman who was severely burned after falling into a thermal feature while trying to save her dog has been released from the hospital.

Laiha Slayton, 21, has undergone 18 surgeries since being admitted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center four months ago following the accident at Yellowstone National Park. She was burned from the chest down and her palms "were completely gone," according to Kami Slayton, Laiha's sister.

"A lot of people didn't think she'd survive, let alone be where she is now," Kami tells EastIdahoNews.com this week. "She's doing amazing. It's a miracle."

Laiha was moving from Washington to Ohio in early October with her father, Woodrow, and two Shih Tzu dogs, Chevy and Rusty. They had never been to Yellowstone so detoured to the park and stopped near Madison Junction. As Laiha went to grab the dogs' leashes, they jumped out of the car and waited at her feet.

A geyser from a nearby stream splashed hot water on Rusty's paw and he took off running into Maiden's Grave Spring near the Firehole River. Laiha ran after her pet and ended up in the thermal feature where the water temperature is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Woodrow pulled his daughter and the dog from the spring and rushed them, along with Chevy (who was not injured), to West Yellowstone, Montana.

Laiha Slayton with her dog Rusty.
Laiha Slayton with her dog Rusty. (Photo: Kami Slayton)

"I just remember hearing Rusty yelping a lot and it makes me sad," Laiha recalls. "I was in the worst pain I've ever felt in my life and I don't think I can really compare it to anything. We had to drive 16 miles because there was no service to call 911. I was awake for all of that and (when we got to the ambulance), I kept asking them to put me to sleep."

Laiha was flown to the EIRMC in critical condition and placed in a medically induced coma. She had second-degree burns over 70% of her body and third-degree burns covering 20%, according to Kamilla.

A long road of recovery

The Burn Center at EIRMC opened three years ago and over 100 critically injured patients were treated in 2021.

"We have a dedicated burn ER room where we can keep patients warm, resituate them, manage pain and sedate them if needed," says Dr. Tait Olaveson, EIRMC's Burn Director. "We get patients from all over the region – Montana, Boise, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and even patients further away."

Laiha's mother, Ladonna Levine, flew to Idaho from Ohio to be with her daughter and husband. Doctors worked to remove dead skin and tissue from Laiha's body and her family prayed her condition would improve.

Laiha Slayton spent four months in Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
Laiha Slayton spent four months in Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. (Photo: LaihaStong via Instagram)

"With any burn, the peak of death would be from the burn itself and then 2-3 weeks later, the second peak is caused by infection because the patient has no immune system," Olaveson says. "Sometimes patients are sedated and on a ventilator for a month, month and a half in the ICU as we monitor them for any sort of infection."

Laiha doesn't remember waking up from the coma but her mom has shown her video of the moment. Laiha couldn't really talk and was on high doses of pain medication. She began intense therapy to heal her body and train her skin to feel again.

The burn center has a dedicated operating room and patients use special showerheads to reduce pain. Laiha worked closely with her doctors and at least one of her parents has been by her side every day for the past four months.

"It's a long process for patients. The first stage is to get dead tissue off, get their nutrition improved so they can start to heal and then we enter the reconstruction phase," Olaveson says. "From there, we have many different materials and options for burns. Sometimes we send some skin off to a company and they grow it in something similar to a petri dish and then we place it back onto the patient."

Moving forward

Immediately after the accident, Laiha's dog, Rusty, was taken to a veterinarian but he did not survive. She says it was hard losing one of her best friends but she's glad he is not in pain. She missed holding Chevy while in the hospital but did get to see him occasionally.

Laiha Slayton was happy to be united with her dog Chevy.
Laiha Slayton was happy to be united with her dog Chevy. (Photo: LaihaStong via Instagram)

"I had a couple nurses that would sneak me to the door when I got the doctor's OK and I would be covered up in blankets so he wouldn't jump up on me and I was allowed to visit with him," Laiha says with a smile.

There have been many painful moments in Laiha's recovery. The burns on her feet were excruciating but she is now walking without any assistance. During particularly hard times, her father would encourage her to stay strong.

"My dad would always just tell me, 'in two weeks, you'll be better than you are now.' Every time, it proved right," Laiha says.

Last week, when Laiha walked outside for the first time since October, she says it was "really, really crazy to get a breath of fresh air again." She is staying in eastern Idaho for a few weeks to continue her physical and occupational therapy at EIRMC. Laser therapy to treat scarring will likely happen within a few years and in the meantime, Laiha plans to continue working toward her dream of becoming a dental hygienist.

The Slaytons are documenting Laiha's journey on Instagram @LaihaStrong and over $82,000 in donations they've received on GoFundMe* have allowed Woodrow and Ladonna to be in Idaho with their daughter.

Laiha Slayton with her father Woodrow Slayton.
Laiha Slayton with her father Woodrow Slayton. (Photo: Laiha Strong via Intagram)

"My parents own their own business and without the GoFundMe and all the help for Laiha, my parents wouldn't be here. Financially they couldn't have done it so it's really amazing they were able to come out here for so long and support her. She really needed it," Kamilla says.

Laiha becomes emotional when she explains how the doctors and nurses at EIRMC "saved my life." She looks forward to moving forward and has a new appreciation for life after her future was so uncertain.

"I couldn't have done this without all the love and prayers from everyone," she says. "I really appreciate it."

*Disclaimer: KSL.com has not verified the accuracy of the information provided with respect to the account nor does KSL.com assure that the monies deposited will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit or donation you should consult your own advisers and otherwise proceed at your own risk.


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Nate Eaton
Nate Eaton is the news director and senior reporter at EastIdahoNews.com, a news organization he cofounded in 2015. He also spent several years as a broadcast reporter covering news across the country.


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