The Story Behind the Scars

Learn how senior Chamilla Colton survived an apartment fire at just three years old.


Ashley Wendt

DOING WHAT I LOVE – Senior Chamilla Colton cheers during a wrestling meet. After being badly burned at just three years old, Colton was left with scars on her arms, chest and part of her face. She said she has used the experience to shape her into who she is today.

When she was just three years old, senior Chamilla Colton suffered severe burns in an apartment fire in Creston. Early on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003, a fire broke out in her room. Her dad had left for work at 6:30 a.m., leaving open the bedroom doors of Colton and her brother, which ended up helping to “feed the fire.” An hour after her father left, Colton remembers waking up with flames surrounding her from a gas leak that blew up the furnace in her room.

Her first thoughts were to save her mother and one-year-old brother. She ran to shield her brother from the flames, which led her to endure third-degree burns on about 20 percent of her body. After her mother was able to bring Colton and her brother out of the building, she ran back to try and save anything she could. Colton’s brother was not burned and her mother only had burns on the bottoms of her feet.

Colton lies in a hospital bed following the accident. Third-degree burns covered her arms, chest and face. -Photo contributed by Chamilla Colton

Colton was then life-flighted to Des Moines Methodist Hospital, where she spent three weeks in a coma. Some grafting treatments were necessary for the burns covering both of her arms, her chest and part of her face. Her lungs were also damaged due to smoke inhalation. Colton said that her nose was so black, her aunt thought she would “need a new one.”

While in the hospital, Colton caught pneumonia and many believed she wasn’t going to survive. During her stay, she had two different physical therapy doctors that she knew as “Tall One” and “Short One.” “Tall One” massaged her burns to help them heal quicker, while “Short One” pounded on her chest and back to swab and clean her lungs.

When she was younger, Colton said she would get many stares. However, she has learned to overcome this over the years. She said a part of overcoming this was “accepting that (the scars are) not going to officially go away,” and knowing that they are “part of my story and who I am.” Colton doesn’t victimize herself for this experience; instead, she has used it as a way to shape her into the person she is today.

After 15 years with her scars, Colton said, “I’ve grown pretty comfortable with them.”