Burn survivor rises like a phoenix as beacon of hope

Burn survivor rises like a phoenix as beacon of hope

Kelsay Parrott confidently poses on the eve of her senior prom. After suffering extensive third-degree burns in a tragic accident in 2003, the young woman endured 51 surgeries, and overcame bouts of depression and suicide, to become an outstanding role model for other burn survivors.

The Success

Reborn, renewed and reimagined. It’s how Kelsay Parrott describes herself after a horrific accident propelled her on a 14-year-long emotional and physical roller coaster.

On May 13, 2003, Kelsay, then a precocious 4-year-old from Cherokee, Iowa, leaned over to blow out a candle. A string of her sundress caught the lit candle, quickly engulfing her dress in flames. Forty-five percent of Kelsay’s body sustained excruciating third-degree burns.

During a lengthy hospitalization and 21-day coma, Kelsay says she met Jesus. “He wasn’t ready for me; He said I have a purpose in this life and will find it,” said the young burn survivor, who’s endured 51 surgeries and gradually learned to embrace her scars.

In addition to expert pediatric and burn rehabilitation, Madonna’s Lincoln Campus offered the youngster a unique healing environment. “My most memorable experiences I didn’t realize were therapy!” recalls Kelsay. Grocery shopping with a toy cart and dressing up like a princess, typical kid activities, transitioned the little girl from a wheelchair to walking. “Madonna became home to me and changed my life,” said Kelsay. In 2004, the Iowan was honored for her courageous recovery with a Madonna GOAL Award.

Kelsay’s extraordinary list of accomplishments includes: the Gold Award, Girl Scout’s highest honor, for her Fireproofing Life project on burn injury and prevention; creating Joy Bags by Kelsay and sharing thoughtful gifts with burn patients; attending World Burn Congress; and earning top awards like Heart of Flame and Camper of the Year for her positivity and passion at burn camps. The humble teen
is quick to give God the glory for it all.

Kelsay considers her recent high school graduation a milestone achievement. She conquered the dark days of painful surgeries, “hating” herself and multiple suicide attempts. “I cried tears of pride and joy accepting my diploma,” said Kelsay, who is studying youth/family ministry and communications at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. Her ultimate goal is becoming a motivational speaker. “I want to change the world, make a difference in the lives of others and be the best role model I can be.”    


A simple act of blowing out a candle went awry, burning 45 percent of Kelsay Parrott’s 4-year-old body. Dressing up like a princess, complete with tiara, was therapy in disguise. The fun activity challenged Kelsay to use her severely burned left arm and increase her range of motion. 

Pediatric rehabilitation program

The Pediatric Specialty Program at Madonna offers family-centered rehabilitation in a separate and secured unit to meet the needs of children and adolescents with all types of diagnoses. Children are not little adults. They have special medical considerations during their rehabilitation.

The children’s unit offers a large, comprehensive pediatric therapy gym, which includes separate bays for a variety of therapeutic interventions. An indoor playground offers accessible playground equipment, a walking track and basketball court. Many adolescents and children also find working and playing in the indoor, warm-water therapeutic pool fun and highly beneficial. The Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC) allows  school-aged patients to continue their studies and transition back to the classroom.

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