Fort Mill Times

Tega Cay teen still critical after fire accident

Connor McKemey
Connor McKemey

Connor McKemey was still listed in critical condition in an Augusta, Ga., burn unit Monday, eight days after he suffered mostly third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body.

Connor, 13, was burned in an incident involving an outdoor fireplace. Investigators ruled it an accident, but have provided no details. Connor's mother, Karin McKemey, was also burned when she rushed to her son's aid. She suffered severe burns to her hands and face, but was discharged Saturday from an Augusta hospital she and her son were airlifted to last week.

The family, including Connor's father, George McKemey, a soldier returning from a deployment in Iraq when the accident occurred, was visited by country music star Garth Brooks last week.

"It was a complete shock," said Karin, who had never met the star before. "I'm a fan, and my son is a fan."

Brooks told her he was visiting family members who lived near the burn hospital when he read postings about the accident on the Caring Bridge Web site. Brooks brought gifts for Connor, including an autographed guitar and football, T-shirts, DVDs and hats, said Karin, who had undergone surgery that day.

"He said he wanted to come and see how we were and to pray for Connor," Karin said.

Because of Connor's condition, Brooks was not able to visit him, said Karin.

However, the football Brooks autographed has been placed in Connor's room in a clear sterile bag. Any object in Connor's room has to be sterilized to protect him from infection, said Karin.

When Connor's condition improves, the McKemeys will put the guitar in his room.

Karin McKemey said she has the most amazing neighbors. One of them, Daniel Tucker, a Tega Cay volunteer firefighter, extinguished the fire on Connor and tended to the injuries of both Connor and Karin.

"He came running out and sacrificed himself to get Connor put out," said Karin, 40, an audio/visual teacher at Fort Mill High School.

She said the events that followed are sketchy in her mind, but she talked about how the family is coping.

"We are hanging in there," she said in a phone interview from her room at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center.

"He has a long road, but doctors are extremely cautiously optimistic," Karin said about Connor's condition.

Connor, a good student and a star athlete on Gold Hill Middle School's football and soccer teams and a Fort Mill lacrosse team, has undergone several surgeries to cleanse his wounds, but he faces many more -- possibly 30 to 40 in the next six months.

Samples of Connor's skin were harvested Monday and sent to a Massachusetts lab to be grown into skin grafts, which he can receive in about three weeks, Karin said.

His condition is fragile, she said.

"Right now, they are just trying to keep him stable and pray for no infection, no pneumonia," Karin said. "It's one of those long, long waiting games."

She visits Connor several times each day. She reads him stories and gives him messages that friends have left for him on the Caring Bridge Web site. The site was set up by family friend Reid Lancaster to help keep friends and family abreast of the McKemeys' recoveries. On Christmas night, while Karin and George were visiting with Connor, George asked his son if he could hear them. Connor nodded his head.

"That was our Christmas miracle," Karin said.

She said the couple and their two other sons, Tripp, 15, and Quinn, 12, are trying to put their lives back together with the help of friends and family while they hold on to hope for Connor. George has been given an extended leave from returning to active duty in Iraq until Connor is discharged from the hospital, Karin said. The McKemeys have found housing at an army base near the burn center.

"This will be a long haul and the family will need the support of all of us," Lancaster said. "We need to continue to pray and find ways to help with the expenses that the family will incur and to maintain their home in Tega Cay and living near the hospital for the coming months."

A trust fund is being set up for the McKemey family and another Tega Cay resident, Trent Tursi, is organizing the McKemey Lacrosse Classic for late January to raise money for the fund for the family. He is planning to have players from the Carolinas play in a 12-hour nonstop game to be held in Tega Cay.

-- Donna Britsch contributed to this story.