Alivia M From Burn Patient to Motivational Speaker

“I make these burns look good.”

It was an ordinary evening at home, on May 12, 2021, when eight-year-old Alivia Miller returned home. A candle burned in the bathroom of her home as Alivia washed her hands. Water from Alivia’s hand hit the candle causing it to explode. She sustained third-degree burns on 17 percent of the right side of her body.

Her mother, Kelicia Paynter, recalls hearing “…a big, big boom and a loud, loud pop” coming from the bathroom. She then heard Alivia scream, “Mommy, there’s a fire!” Ms. Paynter opened the bathroom door and Alivia fell into her arms. Ms. Paynter noticed the candle wax and fire stuck to Alivia’s skin. Alivia practiced the “stop, drop, and roll” method and a cup of water was also poured on Alivia, which finally extinguished the fire. The sprayer from the kitchen sink was used to keep Alivia cool.

Moments later, 911 was called and Alivia and her mom waited until the fire department arrived. Alivia describes her skin as having a feeling as if it were burning for a long period of time. Because of the severity of Alivia’s burns and the fact that her skin color began to change, she was immediately medevacked from Plainfield High School to The Burn Center at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, then Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

 Alivia Miller

“We are a public health resource for the state regarding burn injuries. Aside from clinical care, we at CBMC have an entire burn section devoted to public and professional education (school children, EMTs, and firefighters) as well as disaster planning and management capabilities,” says Michael A. Marano, MD, FACS, Medical Director at The Burn Center at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.

The Highest Quality of Care

Once transported to The Burn Center, Alivia was ventilated and sedated. Alivia’s doctors were Dr. Marano, Robin A. Lee, MD, FACS, Associate Medical Director at The Burn Center, and Christina Lee, MD, FACS, Burn Surgeon. Alivia remembers that Kellie Saracino from the Child Life Program would visit her room.

While in the hospital, Alivia endured a great amount of pain. She had to learn how to walk again and regain mobility in her right arm. She also underwent skin graft surgery. After spending more than a month in the hospital, she was discharged on June 23, 2021.

Looking Back to Move Forward

Alivia, now 10 years old, recounts portions of her experience from her time in the hospital. She says her right eye was closed and scabbed. Alivia also remembers undergoing skin graft surgery and her right leg being bandaged.

Several noteworthy events took place with Alivia at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center. She turned 9 years old, was promoted to 4th grade, and received a letter with a Presidential award from President Joe Biden.

Alivia’s mother says, “I always let Alivia know that she is perfect! She is here for a purpose, here for a reason, and blessed!

Alivia pointed out that May 12 was her second “burnversary.”To reflect on this special day, Alivia, her mom, and her dad had lunch with the crew that came to Alivia’s aid at Plainfield Fire Department.

Walking into a Bright Future

One of Alivia’s interests is motivational speaking. She recently gave a talk to the senior class of Plainfield High School. Alivia then had a question- and-answer session for 20-30 minutes. “Since my accident, I want to be a motivational speaker for kids about fire safety and also to educate the world on my story,” added Alivia.

When she grows up, she would like to work in the burn unit of a hospital as a burn doctor. She says one of her doctors at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center is a burn survivor.

Overcoming Obstacles and Giving Thanks

Alivia wants to thank the staff at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center. She considers the teams that worked with her to be family. She also quoted Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, two burn survivors from the Seton Hall University fire that killed three and injured 58 others in January 2000. Alivia says, “I make these burns look good.” Alivia’s mom repeats affirmations to her daughter every day. One affirmation is, “You are Black and beautiful. And, you are a queen!”

For more information, visit The Burn Center at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.