Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Woman burned in car fire
thankful for prayers

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — Children stare. Adults look away. Burn victim Sharon Everett knows the reaction she gets when venturing out of her home for a trip to the hospital in Cincinnati or to Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Church in Cold Spring.

Sharon Everett flanked by daughters Patty Scharf and Kate Zembrodt. Back, daughter Laura Scharf and husband George.
(Jeff Swinger photos)
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        “The children are just curious,” Mrs. Everett, 52, said in a voice made quiet by a freak fire that 13 months ago damaged her throat, nearly took her life, seared the flesh off more than half of her body and burned away most of her face.

        “This is just something different they haven't seen before,” she explained in her first published interview since household chemicals exploded in the back seat of her car on July 9, 2000. “The adults kind of look away. They don't want to make eye contact. It doesn't bother me. I can understand.”

        Mrs. Everett has an unyielding faith in God. A dogged determination to return her life and body back to normal. The support of friends. And daughters who have put their own lives on hold to help her through the trauma and pain of a horrific accident.

        These are what give Mrs. Everett the resolve to not dwell on her own miseries but to thank and warn others about a fire that started after a routine trip to the store.

Sharon and George.
(Photo provided)
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        “I don't feel sorry for myself. I'm not bitter. But I would like to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else,” Mrs. Everett said in an interview in the living room of her Fort Thomas home, her husband, George, seated across from her while three of her five grown children sit in chairs next to hers.

        Though she says most of the pain has subsided, Mrs. Everett is clearly still suffering discomfort.

        Moving around is not easy. Injuries from the fire force her to wear a brace. Thick therapeutic garments, designed to hold skin grafts in place, cover her legs, arms and chest. Her fingers stick out from long, brown wraps covering her hands and wrists. Tubes in her throat and stomach help her breathe and eat.

        She has trouble sleeping.

        The burns, scars and garments make her skin itch. It is difficult for her to see because of the damage to the skin around her eyes.

        Her nose, lips, eyelids, ears and hair are gone.

Sharon's daughters help her dress.
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        But before talking about herself or the accident, Mrs. Everett thanked the people who have helped and supported her through the ordeal, a group that includes parishioners at St. Joseph's and St. Anthony's in Taylor Mill, her former co-workers at AT&T, members of the marriage encounter group to which she and her husband have long belonged, friends, neighbors and people she doesn't even know.

        They have sent cards and letters, made phone calls, raised and donated money for medical bills and dropped off food at the Everetts' home.

        “We didn't cook a meal for months,” a grateful Mr. Everett said.

        “People brought us dinner every night. You just can't believe how incredible people are at a time like this. It's truly inspiring.”

Deep commitment

        Mrs. Everett, however, saves her highest praise for her family.

        “My kids are wonderful,” she simply said. “They help so much. They do so much for me, and they never complain.”

        “She never complains,” said daughter Laura Scharf, 27.

Everyone in Sharon's family has lent a hand in her recovery.
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        Mrs. Scharf sits close to her mother, frequently reaching out to touch her arm or rest a hand on her shoulder.

        On the other side of their mother's chair is daughter Katie Zembrodt, 30. Also in the room is Patty Scharf, 25, who is married to a relative of Laura Scharf's husband.

        The daughters' commitment to their mother is deep and constant.

        Laura, a legal secretary, and Katie, a teacher, have quit their jobs to care for their mother. They take turns accompanying her to physical therapy sessions three times a week, to frequent trips to doctors and to Sunday Mass.

        Around the house they help with even the most routine functions. They help her get dressed, put toothpaste on her toothbrush, give her daily massages to relieve the itching and stimulate her skin, and give her baths.

        Because of the daughters' dedication, Mr. Everett was able to go back to work.

        The couple's two other children — Bridgett Rice, 29, and George Jr. 26 — also help whenever they can.

        Mrs. Zembrodt even gave her mom a new set of ears.

        In early July the daughters took her to the Washington, D.C., area to see Robert Barron, a former maker of disguises for the CIA who now creates prostheses.

        Mrs. Everett hears with the use of hearing aids, but her ears were destroyed in the fire. Mr. Barron took impressions of Mrs. Zembrodt's ears, then made a pair of prosthetic ears that she simply glues onto the sides of her head.

        “People tell mom her new ears look great,” Mrs. Zembrodt said. “I just say, "Thanks.'”

        Everybody in the room chuckled at the joke, but Patty Scharf is quick to point out that the family is not always so upbeat and positive.

        “We have our rough days,” Mrs. Zembrodt said. “We've been through a lot together and sometimes it's hard to know what Mom has been through.”

        “Everything is a waiting game,” Laura Scharf said. “We've learned a lot about being patient.”

Five months in coma
               Though Mrs. Everett has endured surgeries, more operations await, including a minimum of two or three operations to build her a nose.

        She has accepted her appearance and knows that it will, with the help of doctors and others, eventually improve. But at the same time, she does not attempt to hide it.

        Doctors have recommended she wear a sort of mask when out in public, but she refuses.

        “I don't like it.”

        Following the accident Mrs. Everett spent seven months in University Hospital, five of those in a drug-induced coma designed to keep her still so her burns could heal and the skin grafts could take. She spent two more months in the hospital, but quickly realized the doctors were keeping her away from a mirror.

        “I knew they didn't want me to see what I looked like,” she said. “So this is what I kind of expected.”

        “You should have see her be fore,” Mrs. Zembrodt quickly chimed in. “Compared to that, she looks fantastic now.”

        Mrs. Everett said she remembers nothing about the accident, only waking up in the hospital.

        The fire started in the back seat of her car, where she had put some groceries. She had just pulled into the driveway of her home when the blaze ignited. Because she was strapped in with a seat belt and all the doors were locked, neighbors and family members could not get her out. They had to wait for the Fort Thomas Fire Department to pull her from the car.

        Fire officials have said the fire started when the chemicals from products the Everetts used to clean and maintain their backyard pool apparently leaked and mixed with other products from the grocery store.

        In March Mrs. Everett sued several companies and individuals connected with the manufacturing, packaging and handling of the materials. The suit was filed in Campbell County Circuit Court and seeks unspecified damages.

        Mrs. Everett's attorney, Fred Shaley of Cincinnati, said the fire started when chemicals from the pool products, including an algaecide, mixed with the chemicals contained in household products, among them shampoos and other hair-care products.

        Ms. Everett is talking to the media, she said, including Inside Edition for an episode to air in September, because she wants to let people know what happened, and what can happen.

        “If anything good comes out of this, it is that I want to warn people about the dangers of these chemicals mixing together. I just don't want it to happen to anybody else.”


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