She fell at work and burned 80% of her body: 'I was fully engulfed in flames'

'It's quite scary, because the littlest of burns can cause severe, detrimental damage'
Posted at 6:30 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 18:30:40-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- September 10, 2021, is a day Charlie Anne Xavier will never forget.

The Charlottesville resident was working at her family's business in Gordonsville, when she slipped on fumes leaking from a sander she was using outside.

When she slipped, the sander came falling down, the belt sparking, causing an explosion.

Xavier remembers everything.

"I was fully engulfed in flames and slipping in the flames," she said, recounting that day.

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More than 80% of her body was covered in fire. Xavier walked a few feet away from the pool of fire, and proceeded to roll on the ground, putting out the flames.

Nearby workers helped her call 911.

"One of the very few things that I was very vocal about, was to get me a helicopter there now, to get me to VCU," she said.

Although UVA Medical Center was closer, VCU's Burn Unit is the only one of its kind in the commonwealth.

"I would not have survived had they not sent me to VCU by helicopter. The moment I got there, I know for sure, I probably would've lost my legs and, potentially, my arms," she said.

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When her husband Andre arrived at VCU, he was told his wife had a 3% chance of survival. And if she did survive, she it would take at least a year until she could be released from the hospital.

Xavier had more than 50 surgeries and hundreds of tests. She said her doctor, Dr. Michael Feldman, and his team at the burn unit did everything they could.

"We used different types of products, so some skin substitutes, some skin that was cultured and grown from her, that was grown from her own skin, and some skin that was sprayed on," he said. "This technology is all new but combining helped us to get her healed and into rehab quickly."

The Xavier family said there were highs and lows, like being away from her two young children for months.

Their youngest, just eight months old at the time of the accident, could hardly recognize his mother when he saw her again.

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"That pain was unimaginable. And it did not touch the physical pain that I was feeling," Xavier said.

But coming back for her kids got her through numerous rounds of treatment.

Her 12-month stay in the unit was cut in half.

She now undergoes physical therapy back at home.

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She and her husband now advocate for burn victims, with Andre releasing a memoir about his wife's experience, and the struggles that came with months of treatment and obstacles.

"A lot of people don't understand what your body really challenges, with a burn. You may not realize how bad it is, you may not realize what is happening internally, and when you actually educate yourself on that, it's quite scary, because the littlest of burns can cause severe, detrimental damage," Xavier said.

She and her husband said during their time in the unit, they saw hundreds of pediatric patients with extensive burns from scalding water or coffee.

The burn unit, treating roughly 650 patients a year, is now putting out a call to be aware of the dangers of hot liquids, as well as the importance of responding to an emergency early in the case of a burn from a flame or liquid as part of its Burn Awareness Week.

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Charlie Anne and Andre say quick action saved Charlie Anne's life.

She continues to overcome physical setbacks, but after being told she may never walk again, she showed CBS 6 her new pair of shoes and got to moving.

"I wasn't going to settle for it. I knew I could do it. I'm not going to ever be underestimated again," she said.



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