‘I’m a walking miracle’: Virginia mom, burn survivor shares remarkable recovery

Her husband shares their journey in new memoir, " I Almost Lost Her: A Memoir of Unthinkable Tragedy”
It's been nearly two years since a tragic accident almost cost a Charlottesville mother-- her life.
Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 7:29 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WWBT) - A Charlottesville mother continues to inspire the world after a horrific accident burned 85% of her body nearly two years ago. In a newly released memoir, her husband shares their healing journey.

Not much can keep Charlie Anne Xavier off her feet these days, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Charlie suffered third and fourth-degree burns to her body, down to the bone in some places, after a life-changing work accident in 2021. Doctors told her she may never walk again, and her chance of survival was just 3%.

“I wasn’t prepared to accept that,” said Charlie, who tactfully tackled the stairs as she took NBC12 on a home tour. “When I first came home, I couldn’t pick up a 32-ounce water bottle, so I had to buy a child’s water bottle. Now, I pick up my two and six-year-olds, so I’m getting stronger.”

Last Christmas Eve, Charlie surprised her husband, Andre, and their two boys by walking up the stairs. It was a moment she longed for after months of sleeping in a bedroom downstairs.

The wait to get back on her feet was agonizing. Charlie missed reading bedtime stories to her kids before putting them to bed.

“I was just fed up and finally faced my fears,” said Charlie, who jokingly admitted to practicing how to walk outside of doctors’ orders. Her therapists were ultimately supportive and impressed.

The wait to get back on her feet was agonizing. Charlie missed reading bedtime stories to her...
The wait to get back on her feet was agonizing. Charlie missed reading bedtime stories to her kids before putting them to bed.(Andre Xavier)

Charlie’s life changed forever on Sept. 10, 2021.

Andre and his business partner were two days away from a soft opening at Patch Brewery when Charlie slipped on gasoline with a belt sander. Moments later, she was engulfed in flames crawling to safety in the parking lot.

“I got my footing, stood up slowly and calmly walked while on fire out of the pavilion where I was working,” said Charlie as she recalled those heart-stopping moments.” I rolled on the gravel back-and-forth, back-and-forth until I put out the fire.”

Four people were on-site, including a nurse who happened to be close by. Charlie said she would never forget the sound of horror that day.

“The one thing I think I remember the most were their screams, not mine,” she said. “I don’t know that there will ever be any time in my life that I will hear such a horrifying shriek. The whole time I was trying to get my footing, I just kept saying, ‘God, please let me live, God, please let me live,’ and I just kept thinking about my boys.”

Charlie managed to call her husband minutes before she was rushed by helicopter to VCU Health’s Burn Center, but he did not know how severe her injuries were until he reached the hospital in Richmond.

Andre feared the worst. He explained that the next 72 hours would be critical as Charlie’s body would determine if it was “fighting” or “dying.”

“She was all wrapped up like a mummy,” said Andre about that fateful day. “I couldn’t see any part of her body besides her face, but she was conscious and made eye contact.”

Beyond the fear and beneath the bandages, Andre knew his wife was still there.

Since Charlie couldn’t speak, she wrote a to-do list for her husband that involved picking up baby food for their toddler and infant and tossing out a leftover tuna sandwich in the car.

Sitting side-by-side at their kitchen table, recalling the moment, Charlie and Andre laughed.

“I’m like, that’s what you’re thinking?!” Andre said to his wife. “You almost died.”

“I didn’t want the car to get stunk up, and you’re allergic to seafood,” Charlie told her husband jokingly.

Charlie's healing following her tragic workplace accident began at VCU Health's Burn Center.
Charlie's healing following her tragic workplace accident began at VCU Health's Burn Center.(Andre Xavier)

Early on, Charlie was told she would be hospitalized for a year but spent only half of that time in the medical center before three months of rehab. Today, she credits advanced skin replacement treatments like ReCell therapy which involves transplanting skin cells from a patient’s own body.

Doctors also used a process called “Cultured Epidermal Autograft” or “CEA.” These grafts provide a permanent skin replacement for patients with deep burns.

Blood donations also played a critical role in her recovery.

“If you have the ability to give, it’s probably the biggest gift to yourself because you’re helping people you don’t even know,” Andre explained. “To have Charlie here and our kids to have their mom, it is because of someone’s generosity, a lot of people, in fact.”

Since the accident, the couple has found healing in sharing their story.

For Andre, who penned a new memoir, “I Almost Lost Her: A Memoir of Unthinkable Tragedy,” he felt the most vulnerable he has ever been and the amount of support, in return, has helped the entire family recover.

“The biggest message I hope this book achieves is to give people hope,” said Andre, who learned a lot about the importance of advocating for loved ones when they’re not able to speak for themselves. “Read the bill of rights at the hospital and understand what your legal rights are.”

He also said speaking helps doctors too.

With nearly 60 surgeries behind her, Charlie said she will likely have more in the future to loosen her skin and strengthen her mobility. However, she is learning to adapt as she returns to doing what she loves as a wife and mother.

”Fun fact, you can’t sweat anywhere you’ve been burned,” said Charlie, who loves to bake. ”So, if I don’t have fans on me in the kitchen, it’s literally blood, sweat and tears.”

Charlie Anne Xavier gets back in the kitchen.
Charlie Anne Xavier gets back in the kitchen.(Andre Xavier)

Charlie is taking it all in stride with gratitude for her second chance at life.

“I used to say I was a miracle, but now, I’m a walking miracle,” Charlie laughed. “ Soon, I’ll be a driving miracle, hitting up the Starbucks drive-thru.”

Charlie plans to drive her kids to school in the fall, marking another major milestone.

If you want to keep up with Charlie’s journey and purchase a copy of Andre’s new memoir, visit their blog and website here.

You can help combat a blood donation shortage by scheduling an appointment with the American Red Cross here.