CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Just over a year after Charlottesville resident Charlie Xavier was given a 3% chance of survival following a devastating fire, the mother of two is back home, continuing the road to recovery.
Xavier was left with third-degree burns on 85% of her body, fighting to live after the accident last September.
“We were preparing to open a new brewery,” she told 8News on Wednesday. “I wasn’t aware, but there were fumes nearby from gasoline, and I slipped, and when I dropped the sander, it sparked an explosion, and I was completely engulfed in flames.”
Xavier said her instincts kicked in, walking slowly from the pavilion where the fire was located so as not to fuel the flames even more. She dropped and rolled in gravel nearby to put out the flames that were on her body.
“I sat down on the picnic table, and, at that point, the rescue part of the story begins,” she said. “It was miraculously quick how the rescue team came together and got me to the Evan-Haynes Burn Center.”
Xavier was rushed to Richmond by helicopter. It was at that point that she said she realized the severity of the situation.
“The moments that I was on my way to VCU, those were the moments that I wasn’t sure I would ever see my family again,” she said. “I had to think about those last moments that I saw my boys and that those would be the last times. So it was really scary. So I just kept praying over and over again.”
The Long Road to Recovery
Xavier was in the ICU for nearly six months, unable to see her two young children for that duration. She was on a ventilator for approximately three months and has had more than 50 surgeries to date.
“I never went into a medically induced coma, as the hospital typically would have somebody in my condition and my fragile state,” she told 8News. “I was awake for a lot of it, and it was hard, and it was a lot of suffering. There were the endless surgeries and procedures, and then there was the wound care.”
Xavier described the daily pain of having bandages removed, her skin given time to breathe, and then rebandaged. Aside from the physical pain, though, Xavier said the most challenging part of her initial recovery was the separation from her children.
“Some days, it would torture me because I’m missing everything,” she said. “I’m not there. I’m trapped in here, being tortured daily. So it was hard. It was hard to remain strong.”
By the time she got off the ventilator in December, Xavier said she had a renewed sense of hope for her recovery. But the recovery process had only just begun. In March, she was released from VCU Medical Center and transferred to Sheltering Arms in Goochland for rehabilitation, re-learning how to feed herself and brush her teeth.
In March, Charlie Xavier was released from the hospital — but she still had a long way to full recovery.
“My goal was to walk, and I’m sitting here in a wheelchair right now, and I was in rehab for a while, and I was doing my very best to get home to my boys and to get to a condition where I could be somewhat independent,” Xavier said. “I came home, and I’m here with my boys, but I depend on staff and I am in a wheelchair, and I am nowhere near what I was before.”
Heading to Sheltering Arms nearly six months after the accident, Xavier was able to see her sons for the first time since being admitted to the hospital. She described how her oldest child, London, now 5, was happy to see her and was only concerned about hurting her. But Xavier’s youngest, Julian, was only approaching 9 months old at the time of the fire, and had a different reaction to seeing his mother.
“He was just starting solid food when the accident happened,” she said. “It was really hard because he didn’t really know who I was. I was very different looking than what he remembered, and he was scared and he really just didn’t warm up to me, and that tore me apart. I had missed so much of my favorite time. It’s when they come into their own and they have their personality, and I missed his first steps. I missed his first birthday.”
Going Home Again
Since Xavier returned home at the end of May, the boys have adjusted to having their mother around — both London and Julian enjoying library time and crafting with her.
“I was taking my oldest to school every morning,” Xavier said. “We’re very fortunate his school is, like, a 15-minute walk. But he would ride on my wheelchair, and we would go rather fast, and we would get there in seven minutes, and so he really enjoyed that, and I enjoyed it, as well.”
Xavier has also made physical strides since her return home. While speaking with 8News on Wednesday, she lifted herself out of her wheelchair, and walked to her bed, unassisted. With the help of her husband, Andre, she was also able to walk from her room to the front door and out onto the porch.
“She has this incredible strength and she makes it look easy to do hard things,” her husband said. “It’s been truly amazing to see the boys coming around because when we first got home, they were scared of the chair, Julian especially. Now, that fear is gone. So it’s been incredible just to watch their relationship flourish again.”
But the work isn’t over. Xavier continues to have regular physical therapy and doctors appointments. Her short-term goal is to be able to walk up and down stairs to have more freedom in her own home. Long-term, the Xavier said they want to share their story to help others.
“We’re really wanting to team up with a great nonprofit or an organization that can not only help burn victims, but also help with the advocacy side of things because I really think that we need to work on getting that help to people who need it in hospitals,” she said. “It’s the support from your loved ones. They know you and they know what you would want, and when you can’t speak for yourself, you really need somebody there to speak for you, and not only that, you need the emotional support from loved ones when you’re going through a tough time like that.”
The Xaviers have already released one memoir, detailing the tragedy and triumph of the road to recovery. They said they plan to write another book, focusing more on the difficult days in the ICU, and the strength that came from reaching the rehabilitation center.