Location: Hingham, Massachusetts
Date: June 17, 1993
On June 17, 1993 in the small town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Amy Rabinovitz was boiling meat in her kitchen while her three children sat in the living room, absorbed in a television program. The baby gate that kept her 14-month-old toddler, Abigail, safely out of the kitchen while Amy was working there had broken, so before touching the pot, Amy looked around to assure herself that she was alone. Seeing that she was, and hearing the comforting sound of the television set and the children's responsive laughter, she proceeded to remove the meat and then turned to pour the hot water and grease down the drain. To her horror, she found herself tripping over Abigail, who had quickly and silently crawled into the room while her back was turned. The searing liquids spilled down on her front.
"I grabbed her and the skin peeled off in my hand," Amy said. "I thought I was going to lose her." In spite of her panic, Amy hurried Abigail to the shower and doused her with cool water to stop the burning, removed her clothing, and wrapped her in a clean wet towel, as her five-year-old son, Benjamin, made the critical phone call for help.
Although there is no 911 system in Hingham, Benjamin was able to reach the fire department quickly because Amy had entered the number in her phone's speed dial system last month. He gave them the necessary information, and EMS personnel were there in 3 minutes. EMT Kevin Carter was particularly worried, because he realized from the address that Amy was someone he had known since childhood. "When I first arrived, 40% of the body was burned, and that's such an insult to the body, just because of the infection alone, that I feared for the baby's life," Carter said.
Abigail was put on a stretcher to be transported to Southshore Hospital, and Amy observed with terror that Abigail suddenly stopped crying and didn't move. "I thought she had stopped breathing, that she had lost it, and that she was gone." EMT Michael Lento tapped on the bottom of Abigail's feet and called out her name. "Then she began to cry again. The wailing was tough to hear, but I knew that she was breathing," he said.
Because of the seriousness of her condition, Abigail was taken from Southshore to the Shriner's Burns Institute in Boston, where she was treated by Dr. Robert Sheridan. "The liquid poured down from above burned her face, neck, and shoulders. One third of her skin was gone," Dr. Sheridan said. "In many parts of the world, an injury of this kind to a child this age is lethal. The majority of the burns that we see at the Shriner's are from cooking or bathing accidents. Seventy percent of the burns we treat are from hot liquids." "I was very surprised at the damage hot water can do. I had always thought a fire burn or an electrical burn could do a lot more damage," Abigail's father, Steven, later said.
Abigail was treated at Shriner's for a month, and her parents visited her every day, sharing her agony and hope. "Nothing can prepare you for walking into a burn trauma unit," Steven said. "The first thing that hits you is the smell." One of the most frustrating things for Abigail's parents was that they could not comfort their child by holding her in their arms. "To see her bandaged up like that wasn't my baby. That was somebody else's baby, I kept thinking," said Amy. "The guilt that hits you is incredible. You had to wear rubber gloves and a mask and a plastic apron just to reach through the curtain and touch her. You couldn't just pick up your child and hold her." "That was one little joy that you just don't think about until you lose it for a while," Steven said.
Dressing changes for Abigail's burns were painful events that occurred twice a day. "I cried every time the dressings were changed," Amy said, "and was there every time." Abigail's skin graft operations went well, but she contracted pneumonia while in the hospital, which was quickly treated. She was released after a month in the hospital, and returned home to delight her family with the spirit and her energy.
Before Abigail came home from the hospital, the Rabinovitzes bought a new baby gate, "which we use all day and every day," Amy says. "And we always tell the kids, 'Call the ambulance if you think you need it. Don't hesitate.'" "Because the injury was so severe," Steven said, "we didn't think she was going to make it. So just to have that little person running around in the front yard is unbelievably rewarding. We've had some tough times, but it helped to restore a lot of our faith in humanity to know that people, like the people that saved Abigail, really do care."