As Told To Veronica R. Wells
"Skin Don't Stop No Show" Burn Survivor Julie Saint-Fleur Shares Her Story
Open letter: when I got burned all my doctors would say is "a year from now you'll get to do this or that again" so now that I'm half way there I feel its only fair to share the experience so far: for the most part it sucks! At first I felt like I was only supposed to be optimistic through and through but its not true you do get uncomfortable not only physically but mentally as well and that's fine. A part of me is hopeful that I will still live a full life with my scars the other half can't let go of what once was (looking at pictures before the incident doesn't help). Being in the position where I inspire so many it is only fair that I don't sugarcoat the journey. I do have my moments where I'm not feeling myself and want to hide from the world and I don't think its anything wrong with that. On the opposite side when I'm in that moment when I am completely confident in the beauty of my scars its like a high I don't want to get off of. If I can give honest blunt advice to anyone who wants it... You are entitled to feel how you want... don't allow anyone to determine how you view yourself. If you accept you, everyone else will have no choice but to embrace you as well. Yea I'm burned but shit I know I'm still popping *hair flip* #burnsurvivor
On July 23, 2016, I was at a nightclub that served food and they served it outside and there was a tent set up and the food was cooked in fryers underneath the tent. So the customers crowded around there to order their food and I was taking the orders. Two of the customers— I don't know it happened so quick— I think one of them said something to the other one and one of them pulled out a gun and started shooting. So everyone is trying to get away from the bullets flying and someone kicked the fryer and that's how the oil landed on my back. Instantly, as soon as it hit my back I thought it was a gun. I thought it was one of the bullets because it just hit one spot. It wasn't until I looked down and I saw pink flesh. The minute I felt the pressure on my back I ran inside the kitchen because the tent was set up next to the kitchen door and so I ran inside the kitchen and you know there's oil and everything on the floor and so I slipped and the wig flies off. And I'm like, ‘Oh no I'm not dying with my wig off.’ So I grabbed it and put it back on my head. Yeah I was not going out like that. I knew a few people there including my brother so my brother was dealing with my cousin who also got burned that night so my friend drove me to the hospital. [In the car] I was screaming at him like ‘Hurry up. Hurry up get away from these cars and get me to the hospital!’ When Julie got to the hospital, she didn’t realize that she would be in store for a different kind of pain. They told me that that they have to wash the oil off or it is going to continue cooking my flash so they had to pour some solution on me to get the oil off. What did that feel like? Hell. It was not fun at all. [After they washed the oil off] they had to transfer me to a burn center to the burn unit and once I got to the burn center I was prepped for surgery to clean to remove the burnt skin. It's like open flesh so they have to clean it. They have to make sure there's no dirt or anything that flew on it. The surgery was called debris-ing because they have to clean everything. During this time what were you feeling, how was your mental state? See when I first arrived to the first hospital, they lied to me. They told me it was the first and 2nd degree burns. So in my mind that's like first-degree burns is when oil hits your skin while you're frying something. It's not that serious. So in my mind I’m like ‘Ok that's fine. I'll be OK.’ It's not until I got to the burn center and it's a room full of surgeons and they're like 'You have to have surgery right now.' And I’m like ‘Oh shit, this is serious.' So what happened after surgery? It was like I would say the worst part of the whole experience. Because for medical purposes you cannot be on your stomach if you are unconscious because you won't be able to breathe or anything. So imagine they just scraped my back and now I'm laying on it. It was horrible How long did the whole thing take in the hospital? I was probably at the first hospital for 20 minutes, 30 minutes tops and I was transferred to the burn center and I was there for four weeks. I had four procedures. I had a surgery each week. The first surgery was to debris the skin to clean it off the second surgery was to remove skin from places that weren't damage to put on my back the third and the fourth were placing it on there and making sure that it took. Where did they get the extra skin from? My thighs and my legs that weren't damaged
You said the skin graph was the most painful. Why is that? With the burns my nerves and everything were damaged I couldn't feel anything, literally. But with the skin graph it's like the first layer so it looks as superficial as a paper cut but you know paper cuts really hurt so it was just very painful. I definitely did not like being in the hospital. I did not like not being able to be independent and get up to walk around or sit down or do anything. But as far as being depressed I didn’t— I wasn't down or anything about what happened. I was just happy that I didn't get shot or anything. The person the guy was shooting at did get shot but I don't know what happened with that situation. Did you have family and friends coming to visit you? Yes they were praying all the time and saying oh God God saved you. They really didn't have words to say. It wasn't a good sight to see. You said on your Instagram page that your boyfriend was in an accident of his own around the same time. Yes, a few weeks later a motorcycle accident. He was on the motorcycle and he was speeding and he crashed into a wall and was knocked unconscious. He woke up the next day and he walked away with the minor road burn. Thank God he walked away. He was always cheering me on when I had to learn how to walk again he was telling me that I can do it. I think it definitely brought us closer. What were you doing at the time before the incident? I was in school I was a college student so I got out of the hospital on Friday and I went back to the classes on Monday because I didn't want to take a semester off. My university was really good about having me take the classes online you know like a FaceTime situation. So I was able to do that but not be as mobile as I wanted to. Then I couldn't take my own shower or anything. That part was miserable. What are you studying in college? Elementary education. What contributed to your positive outlook during this whole thing? Knowing that it wasn't going to be that way forever. I couldn't walk or the mobile but I knew that eventually I could. I knew that for the moment that was the situation but I knew it wasn't going to stay that way and that just motivated me to like not wanting to use the walker and try to do things on my own, quicker. What influenced your decision to share your story on social media? I'm a very open person. Before the whole thing I was going through a fitness journey and I was like really open about weight loss and everything. So when that occurred I was like I don't want to hide now. I think that by my second post people were just giving me so much and telling me how much me being honest about it was helping them. So I realized ‘Ok, this could be a good thing.’ Why are you always as confident in your appearance your parents after the accident? For the most part I probably had like five days throughout this whole where my attitude about this would shift but, for the most part, I was like ‘Skin don't stop the show.’ It didn't do anything I would just have like a moment where ‘This is what's up. Look at my leg’ and then I'd get over it.
Are you still in any pain now?
No. when I first got out and they finally got all the bandages off, I couldn't stand or anything and so they sent me to physical therapy so now it's great. I finally went back to working out, today actually, so everything's back to normal.
What's next for you?
Finishing school, getting a degree and just really getting to do what I want to do in life as far as my career and my family planning. I decided to work with children to try and help change the world and that's still a mission of mine. What would you say you've learned from this whole experience? Live life because I couldn't have foreseen that that was going to happen to me. You know how you said at the beginning of the conversation, you think about something tragic happening to you. I never thought like that. I feel like ‘Oh I have all the time in the world to do this. I have all the time in the world to say that to somebody.’ And that's not the case. In a split-second anything can happen, anything can change so it's best to live life. Do whatever it is you have on your list of things to get done right then and there. Don't put things off.