Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas, 41, suffered third-degree burns to half her body after a candle lit a dress she was wearing on fire at a dinner party in November 2019. (Submitted)

Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas, 41, suffered third-degree burns to half her body after a candle lit a dress she was wearing on fire at a dinner party in November 2019. (Submitted)

‘I’m still alive’: B.C. burn survivor shares road to recovery after candle accident

For more than a year after her accident, Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas couldn’t look in the mirror. Now, she’s learning to accept her scars.

“If I’m here and still alive there’s got to be a reason for it.”

That’s the outlook Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas has adopted after a tragic accident left her with third-degree burns on half her body in 2019.

In less than 30 seconds the 41-year-old’s life was changed forever. At a November dinner party, her floor-length polyester dress caught on fire from a low-lying candle.

“I remember running around in circles in the living room screaming for help,” Vargas said. “It was a nightmare, I was conscious the whole time.”

The avid runner was rushed to hospital and spent two months bedridden as a patient at Vancouver General Hospital and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre.

Relearning Walking, Running

After time in the high acuity unit and five plastic surgeries in a span of six weeks, Vargas had to relearn everyday activities including walking.

“When you’re in the hospital you can lose hope so easily,” she said. Her husband, Andrew, took a year’s leave from work to be by her side.

A total of five skin grafts had to be taken from lesser-harmed areas of her body, including her arms and back, and transplanted onto her legs and feet.

To this day, Vargas has not been able to enjoy long periods in the sun due to the danger its rays pose to her skin. As a Latina, this has proven difficult, she chuckled.

She takes medication to dull the nerve pain she experiences, wears compression garments and moisturizes her skin two to three times daily.

“I feel sick all the time,” she admitted, more than a year later.

“I get fatigued because my body is still in recovery.”

A Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

The most arduous part of her healing has been accepting the skin she’s in.

“Up until six months ago, I wasn’t comfortable touching my own skin,” she said. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

It doesn’t help that strangers stare at her scars in public.

“They look and stare at my feet,” Vargas said.

Now, after more than a year of reluctance to share the story of her accident with people outside her close-knit circle of friends and family, Vargas has begun to open up.

“I want to tell other burn survivors like me, ‘You can make it.’” She has done so at the bedside of other burn survivors, with support from British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund.



sarah.grochowski@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC HealthfireHospitals

Just Posted

Workers had a busy time today repairing a broken main water line. (District of Houston photo)
Water service being restored

Main line on 13th had broken

Flags at the District of Houston administrative building were lowered last week following the news that the remains of as many as 215 children were found buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The flags were raised back up yesterday. (Houston Today photo)
Flags lowered in memory

Flags at the District of Houston administrative building were lowered last week… Continue reading

Bruce Tang- Unsplash photo
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

“Older adults in our communities continue to find themselves in vulnerable situations… Continue reading

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More than 75% of B.C. adults have 1st dose of COVID vaccine

The federal government has confirmed a boost in the Moderna vaccine will be coming later this month

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The rainbow flag flies beside the Canadian flag outside the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus on June 26, 2020. Monday, June 14, 2021 is Flag Day, and also June is Pride Month. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

Most Read