CLEARWATER — The girl who was burned over more than 54 percent of her body in a house fire Saturday has been upgraded to serious condition, according to a spokeswoman for the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati.
Makeila Pressley, 9, underwent surgery at 7 a.m. Monday to remove burned skin on her face, chest area and legs. Doctors also started placing skin grafts on the injured areas.
"Everything went as planned and the doctors are happy with the result,'' said her great-aunt Barbara Jenkins. "They hope in a few days they can take her off the (respirator).''
More surgeries are planned, she said.
According to Clearwater Police Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly-Watts, a cigarette discovered in the closet of the Clearwater home where the girl was sleeping may have started the blaze.
Jenkins said Makeila does not smoke, but another family member does. It is not clear how the cigarette ended up in the closet.
On Friday night, Makeila, who shared a room with her cousins, decided she couldn't sleep because she was too hot.
The 9-year-old knew that a bedroom where several adult family members slept had a fan, so she wandered in there. She was alone in the room at the time.
The fire erupted around midnight. The child's uncle, Lester Nelson Jr., kicked the door in and tried to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher but it was out of control. So he and his father ran outside, broke the bedroom window and sprayed a garden hose inside.
The water must have revived Makeila because "after that she got up and walked out of the house,'' Jenkins said.
She was on fire. Her mother, Davana Pressley, pushed her to the ground and smothered the flames.
Makeila was transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where 20 to 30 family members and friends waited until 6 a.m. Saturday to see her.
Several hours later, she was flown by private jet to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati.
There, she was able to nod yes when asked if she knew she was in a hospital.
JoAnn Williams, who exercises at a Curves for Women in Tarpon Springs and lives in a houseboat on the Anclote River, was touched by Makeila's story and is trying to start a collection on her behalf. The Curves at 767 S Pinellas Ave. in Tarpon Springs plans to put a jar out to collect money for the family. The donations will be deposited to a fund set up at Wachovia Bank.
"I saw the grandfather (on a TV report) and he had tears running down his face,'' said Williams, who is a grandmother. "I felt compelled to do something.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.