ELWOOD — It happened in a flash, the type of accident that could happen whenever kids are playing.
Had it not been for a haircut earlier in the week, the result could have been much worse and Elwood graduate Madison Tincher knows just how fortunate she was that Saturday evening nine years ago.
"I had just got done playing a softball game and we were at my cousin's birthday party," Tincher said. "We were playing this game of tag...I was running backwards and I tripped and fell into a fire pit."
She landed on her backside with her legs hanging over the ring of bricks that encircled the pit. She attempted to push herself up and suffered second and third degree burns over five percent of her body, including her hand, her lower back, and the backs of her legs.
"The bricks (are) what burnt the back of my legs and the fire is what got my butt and lower back," she recalled. "The way I was sitting, I had to stick my hand in (the fire) to get up, and that's how that got burnt. I remember it was very vivid actually. I remember being embarrassed because, my clothes were on fire, and I had to strip right there in front of everyone. My shorts and my shirt had melted to me."
With one local ambulance out for service and the second in use because of an injury earlier at the softball field, Madison's father put her in a friend's car and drove her to the hospital. She walked into the emergency room because her injuries did not allow her to sit in a wheelchair, where her burns were cleaned with sterile water.
"My hand is what hurt the most, that was where I got the third-degree burns," Tincher said. "I was crying my eyes out, I wanted my mom. They were pouring the water on it and that made it feel good for just that minute. Then the pain would come back. Nothing made it feel better except that sterile water."
"They gave her so much pain medicine that when they transferred her to Riley (Hospital in Indianapolis), they said 'There is nothing else we can give her,'" Madison's mother, Britney Miller, said.
Earlier in the week, Tincher, whose hair had grown beyond her waist, had gotten a haircut. Without that trip to the stylist, her injuries could have been far more severe.
"She's a very lucky girl," Miller said. "We had just gotten her hair cut, and she had had a perm. With the perm, you would have had mousse and gel and all that. That would have just ignited."
Tincher agrees. Another patient was a toddler who suffered injuries over 100 percent of her body in a house fire.
"I know I'm lucky," Tincher said.
After a week at Riley Hospital, Tincher was sent home where her mother continued the treatments. They involved cleaning her daughter's burns three times a day, a process that lasted about 45 minutes and resulted in excruciating pain.
"I had to quit my job, because I knew how to do it," Miller said. "We had to take her for checkups and, at one point they were talking about skin grafts for her hand. She had to do these exercises and they said that with me making her do these exercises, she wouldn't have the webbing in her hand."
"I could have had a frog hand," Tincher said. "Skin would form and I had to stretch it because you didn't want it to form where it was sometimes. It would rip all the time."
Remarkably, after three weeks of treatments at home, Madison returned to the doctor wearing her softball uniform. She was hoping to be cleared so she could play a game that day.
She was, and she did.
During her recovery, she was introduced to what has become a summer tradition for Madison.
"I was in my room in Riley and one of my nurses was a counselor at Hoosier Burn Camp," Tincher said. "It's really a bunch of firefighters and nurses who are the camp counselors."
Held annually at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Hoosier Burn Camp was founded in 1997, thanks to a collaboration between the Indiana State Fire Marshall and Riley Hospital for Children. Completely dependent upon donations, the camp combines the typical fun associated with summer camp with activities designed to help burn victims recover from their physical injuries as well as the psychological trauma that so often goes along with them.
"I was so excited, but it still didn't sound like nearly as much fun as what it really is," Tincher said. "There is swimming and a bunch of activities. I describe it as Disney. I love it so much and every year I couldn't wait to go.
"They do counseling without seeming like you're in counseling," she added. "They do it in such a fun way."
She has attended every year since her accident. The one year she couldn't stay for the whole week was 2017 when her Elwood Panthers were practicing for regionals, a trip that would ultimately end at the state finals. But that year, she did go on visitor's day and made it back in time for practice.
"The week is entirely free for me and all the kids there," she said. "At visitor's day, there's a motorcycle ride that happens to raise money for camp. They bring in fire trucks from all over Indiana and the kids get to ride. Then they have a big cookout for anyone who goes. Anybody can go."
Tincher plans to continue attending and values the types of personal relationships that developed through the people she met at the burn camp, including some who have driven from Ohio to watch her play.
But there is one person that she would like to thank and she does not even know who that is.
"I remember the ride (to Riley) in the ambulance," Tincher said. "I felt like I was on a roller coaster because we were going so fast. I don't know who the guy was in the back with me, I was so hot that I felt cold. He just kept telling me, 'You'll be all right.'
"I really wish I knew who he was. I don't even remember a face," she added.
A finalist for the 2019 Red Haven Award, Tincher was awarded both academic and athletic scholarships and will play softball at Huntington University while studying psychology and criminal justice. She graduated with a 4.378 GPA and has an eye on a career as a prosecuting attorney.