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Fire didn't burn Clearwater family's spirit

CLEARWATER — It was 11:10 a.m. Thursday and Davana Pressley sounded tired, the kind of tired that dogs you all day. The kind that can't be cured with caffeine.

"H...h...ello?'' she whispered into the phone.

After spending 13 hours a day beside her 9-year-old daughter's bed at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati, she tries to sneak away to her room on the second floor to catch some sleep.

But almost every day at 8 a.m., the nurses rouse her.

"Your baby wants you,'' they say.

She rushes up to Makeila's room on the third floor.

With a tube in her trachea, Makeila can't make a sound. Her voice has been silenced since late February when she stumbled out of her family's blazing house, her body on fire. Among her last words were "I'm burning.''

Davana Pressley, 25, has learned to read her daughter's lips.

"She tells me she really doesn't like therapy,'' she said. "She tells me when she gets too hot or too cold.''

Davana Pressley desperately wants to come home, and would give anything to go to a fundraiser planned for Makeila at 1 p.m. Saturday at Greenwood Panther Field. Her large extended family plans to be there.

It is being organized by Joe Marshall, president of the nonprofit Greenwood Panthers youth football program, where Makeila is a cheerleader. He hopes there will be a huge turnout.

"Once Makeila comes home, she's going to have some ongoing expenses,'' he said. "By doing a little event, it will show (her) that the community hasn't forgotten her.''

Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children. There will be free food, drinks and music. Games and activities, including a moon walk, cost $1-$3.

The fire was sparked by a smoldering cigarette left in a closet in the back bedroom where Makeila had gone to sleep.

The house sustained $55,000 in damage.

With help from the community, Makeila's grandmother, Shirley Pressley, was able to move her family to a new one-story rental house off Sunset Point Road.

The 48-year-old lives in the three-bedroom home with her seven grandchildren, three grown children and her children's father.

It has been a tough year for Shirley Pressley. A diabetic, she had to have one of her toes amputated in August. In September, she stepped on a nail with her other foot and "it got infected and I had to have surgery.''

Because of her health issues, she has not been able to work.

Then came the fire.

She said good Samaritans have donated about $6,000 in cash. They also have supplied appliances, furniture, towels, a microwave oven, a toaster oven and even a set of spoons.

She said she has everything she needs except one thing.

"I have to get curtains,'' she said.

But that is the least of her concerns. Number one is her granddaughter.

Makeila, a Largo Central Elementary third-grader, was burned over more than 54 percent of her body including her face, chest, arms and legs.

She has been at Shriners Hospitals for Children for 40 days and has undergone 14 skin graft surgeries.

During one procedure, doctors harvested skin from Makeila's scalp and grafted it onto her face.

Makeila has been so sedated that she doesn't yet realize her hair has been shaved off. There is just some fuzz left.

Her mother said she has not looked into a mirror since before the fire.

"She hasn't asked,'' Davana Pressley said.

The last operation took place Tuesday. She was taken off a ventilator, which had assisted her breathing, on Wednesday.

On Thursday, physicians again gave Makeila enough medication to allow her to drift off and not feel the pain of a final procedure.

They fitted her with a clear plastic mask she will have to wear for a year and a half to help prevent disfigurement.

The mask will be held in place with straps.

Along with the mask, she also will be required to wear a full-body pressure garment to help reduce scarring.

She can only take it off when she bathes.

Davana Pressley said she is not sure when Makeila will be released from the hospital. She is still at risk for infection.

When she is permitted to go home, Davana Pressley will allow her to return to school if she wants, but she is worried. She knows kids can be mean. Makeila's been through enough.

"I'm thinking about home schooling her,'' Davana Pressley said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

>>How to help

If you go

A fundraiser for Makeila Pressley will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Greenwood Panther Field, 1190 Russell St., Clearwater. There will be free food, drinks and music. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children. Games and other activities cost $1-$3. All proceeds will be donated to the Pressley family.

Fire didn't burn Clearwater family's spirit 04/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 11:54am]
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