On Special Assignment

Feb 1, 2013 3:33 PM by Erin Schattauer, Judy Slate - MTN News

Woman talks about moments after Harrison explosion

BOZEMAN - The remains of a house crushing down on top of her, Laura Lee Sheehan wiggled her toes.

"(I was) afraid of being paralyzed, and I could wiggle my toes. I was under stuff I could see that my skin was peeling," Laura Lee explained while sitting on her Salt Lake City hospital bed.

The next thing she remembers is yelling for help.

"I was calling for help, yelling for help."

Help came for Laura Lee. Neighbors and first responders pulled her from the debris. Word spread quickly that the house Laura Lee was living in had exploded.

She was taken to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

"I remember landing in Bozeman and that's all I remember," she said.

Her mother, Lisa, dropped everything and went to the hospital to be with her daughter. Laura Lee was flown from Bozeman Deaconess to the University of Utah Health Care Burn Center.

"She was serious. It was really serious," Lisa remembers.

The explosion happened on Sept. 2, 2012. From that day forward, Lisa would not leave her daughter's side.

"It was really bad at first. They were great, but they were trying to prepare me," Lisa remembers.

Laura Lee had burns covering more than 67% of her body as well as internal injuries.

"We were really unsure if she was going to make it," one of the nurses who tended to Laura Lee said.

Over the next several months, Laura Lee would undergo numerous procedures to repair her damaged body. Some of them she remembers, but most of them she does not. She was in a medically induced coma for some time.

"The burns are everywhere, from here down," Laura Lee now explains, months later, holding her hands up to her chest.

Now, looking at her, talking to her, laughing and joking with her, it's hard to imagine the journey Laura Lee has endured over the past months. While the scars remain, her survivor attitude shines through. She is grateful to be alive, grateful for the care of those at the University of Utah Health Care Burn Center, people that she now calls friends.

"I'm so happy to be alive, I shouldn't be," Laura Lee admits. "Everything's healing and I couldn't be happier with how things have turned out."

A visit with Laura Lee, her mother and her friends, makes a visitor think about the power of positive thinking. Laura Lee's hospital room was not a place of sadness or grieving - her mother made sure of that from day one.

Her mother, Lisa, set rules for the room where she and her daughter would spend most of their time over the next five months.

"Nobody could be grim in this room and we could only laugh and have a good time in this room," Lisa explains.

The room was filled with pictures, posters and decorations. Laura Lee spent a birthday, Halloween, Christmas and New Year's in the room. In addition to a miniature decorated Christmas tree and other personal decorations, her cut-out of George Strait was brought in and country music was played.

"Then I just started talking to her like I always do, ‘Get up. Come on.' Fifty days,'" Lisa explained.

Laura Lee was asleep for 50 days. During that time, she underwent eight skin graft surgeries.

But the burns were not the only thing that had to heal.

"My pelvis was broken in three places. I had some cracks in my back and my neck, 17 broken ribs, my lung was punctured, bleeding in my stomach broken left ankle shattered from the knee down," she said.

There were three more grafting surgeries as well as other procedures.

"She never once was a victim. She never said, ‘Poor me,'" Lisa remembers.

Over the next few months, Laura Lee's healing happened. While there's still work to do, she became well enough to leave the hospital, nearly five months from the day that she arrived there with her mother by her side.

Her departure was bittersweet. While she was excited to go home to Montana, she was leaving the people who made it possible for her to do so, people that she now calls friends.

"I can't say enough good things about what they've done for me, what they mean to me. I mean, they saved my life," Laura Lee said.

The Sheehans are also grateful to the many people who have supported Laura Lee with thoughts, prayers and donations over the last few months.

"All of your positive energy and prayers and everything that came pouring out of Montana that helped cure Laura means more to me then I'll ever be able to repay," Lisa said.

"I'm just so grateful and humbled by everyone's generosity," Laura Lee added.

One of the last things packed up in Laura Lee's room was a panoramic photo of dozens of people lined up outside the Pony Bar where Laura Lee bartended before the explosion. The picture speaks volumes, not just about the people who have continued to support her, but also of Laura Lee. She is a woman who has inspired hundreds of people with her positive attitude, the attitude of a fighter, a woman who does not give up.

Laura Lee is continuing her recovery at her mother's house in Bozeman.

(Photo - Laura Lee talks with her mom, Lisa, before being released from the hospital)

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