Toddler Facing Months of Surgeries Following Fire

Toddler Facing Months of Surgeries Following Fire

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Kimberly Houk ReportingA 20-month old Springville toddler will be spending next month in the burn unit at the University of Utah. Her parents are hoping their story will be a wake up call to other parents about the dangers found within their own home.

Claire Nelmelka is four months away from turning two, and in the next four months she'll undergo many surgeries to repair nearly 25% of her badly burned body.

Left alone in the kitchen for just a few minutes, Claire's father returned to a sight he'll never forget.

David Nemelka, Father: “It’s a moment that I wish I could not remember.”

Big flames engulfing the pink dress covering her body.

David Nemelka, Father: “I could see flames. I could feel flames. And I just ripped that dress off.”

Doctors say he saved his little girl's life by immediately wrapping her in wet towels, stopping the burning process.

David Nemelka, Father: “The skin was just peeling off.”

Claire was on her way to the hospital before her father realized how she caught on fire -- a candle left burning on a countertop in the kitchen. Claire climbed on top...

David Nemelka, Father: “I heard a cry. It caught my ear, I knew it was not a normal cry. And right after that was another cry. Just something said, “David get in there as fast as you can.’”

Quick thinking may have saved Claire's life, but this father says he wishes he had thought about the burning candle before he left the room.

Lezlie Matthews, RN, University of Utah Hospital: “These parents would do anything to go back in time.”

David Nemelka, Father: “My perspective is if I had been 10 or 15 seconds later, Claire would be dead.”

Claire will go through her first major skin graft surgery on Monday, the first of many more surgeries to come. Her parents say they'll do whatever it takes to help their little girl heal; they’re just grateful they'll be able to take her home with them in about a month.

About 40-percent of the patients in the University of Utah's Burn Unit are young kids who have been burned inside their home, by either bath water that is too hot or after pulling pots off of stoves. Doctors ask parents to make sure handles are turned towards the back of the stove, and never run bathwater that is more than lukewarm.

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