Christen Jones suffered severe burn injuries at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a nearly month-long stay at Regional One Health’s Firefighters Burn Center.
While the isolation caused by the pandemic and the challenges of recovering from her injury were never easy, Christen found compassion and support every step of the way.
Now, she’s back to the things that matter most – her two kids and her thriving professional photography business.
If you spotted Christen Jones at Regional One Health recently, she was probably setting up her camera to take headshots for clients of her photography business.
It was a different story three years ago, when Christen got the jolt of a lifetime: learning she was being admitted to the Firefighters Burn Center and could expect a lengthy stay.
Despite her shock – and the challenges of being in the hospital at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – Christen is grateful she found herself at Regional One Health on October 29, 2020.
“Regional One Health will always have a special place in my heart,” she said. “It was hands down, by far the scariest experience of my life, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
On October 27, 2020, Christen was doing what many people did during the pandemic – spending time outside. She was near a fire pit when one of her dogs got behind her without her realizing it. When she took a step backwards, she tripped and fell into the flames.
She went to a nearby emergency room and was told to buy over-the-counter ointment to treat the burn. She wasn’t in terrible pain, so she did as she was told.
The next day, her sister told a friend who works at Regional One Health about the accident. After hearing that Christen’s hands and a large portion of the back of her body were injured, the friend urged Christen get checked at the burn center.
“Once I got there, they took me in to clean the burn,” Christen said. “All of a sudden there were seven other people in the room. It was crazy, because I thought I was just going in for wound care and bandages, and they said, ‘You’re not going home anytime soon.’”
The severity of her injury quickly began to reveal itself. The pain kicked in with a vengeance and Christen’s blood pressure dropped dramatically, causing severe vomiting.
Later, she learned her experience wasn’t uncommon: her fourth-degree burns damaged her nerve endings, dulling the acute pain response. That, along with adrenaline, had kept her going at first.
Christen is grateful she was already where she needed to be by the time she was in crisis.
“The staff is amazing. A lot of them come from a flight nurse or trauma or EMT background,” she said. “They’re passionate about what they do – they’re not just there to clock in, clock out.”
She ended up having two skin graft surgeries, first to cover her burn with cadaver skin and then with her own skin. The second surgery was so successful that she had very little skin tightness and maintained excellent range of motion.
All said, she spent seven days in critical care and 19 days in recovery.
Along with the physical challenge of healing from a severe injury, she dealt with the emotional challenge of isolation. “There were no visitors because of COVID, so I couldn’t see my kids. I’m a single mom, so I was obviously freaking out,” she said.
“I have a history with anxiety, and it went through the roof. I was scared to death, and the fact that I was by myself was really hard.”
Fortunately, she found plenty of support. “There was always someone checking on me,” Christen said. “My nurses advocated for me tremendously and educated me on everything that happened. When I had zero appetite, the lady who came in to get orders told me, ‘Just tell me what sounds good, and I’ll make it for you.’ If anyone brought me something, the nurses would go meet them outside and bring it to me. I’m totally aware they did not have to do that.”
She got through it by talking to her nurses, many of whom remain friends to this day; seeing her kids and parents on FaceTime; and ultimately discovering the power of her own determination.
“I got up every day and made myself walk. I was adamant I wasn’t going to go down that way,” she said. “I realized I was stronger than I ever realized.”
Christen continued to rely on that strength after going home.
She had to stay in bed, lying on her stomach or uninjured side, for six weeks. It was four or five months before she could return to work, and even longer until she could be on her feet for the 10-12 hours it takes to complete a wedding shoot.
But today, she feels stronger than ever. “I still have scars, so there’s never a point where I’m not reminded of it. But now it feels like a lifetime ago,” she said. “I very much came out of it feeling like a survivor, feeling thankful, and knowing I can do hard things.”
Her journey even includes going from being a Regional One Health patient to visiting the hospital to take headshots for clients of Christen Jones Photography, the business that is both her livelihood and her passion.
“I opened in 2007. I started with mainly weddings, and then my clients started having babies, so I started doing newborn photos. Now, I do headshots too,” Christen said. “Owning and running this business means so much to me. It’s been neat to come full circle, and every time I’m there to take photos I stop by the burn unit. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for me!”
Learn more about how our Firefighters Burn Center saves lives and protects quality of life at www.regionalonehealth.org/firefighters-burn-center/