“I’m so grateful that I get to hold my baby tonight”

Patient Stories |



Two-year-old Gordy knows fire is dangerous, but he suffered serious burns when he tripped and fell into an extinguished campfire site. His parents want to spare others the pain he and they endured.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Two-year-old Gordy Leavell was just trying to get out of his camping chair and reach out to his dad nearby when he tripped and stumbled.

He landed on the still-hot grate of an extinguished campfire, where his parents, Jack and Claudia, had cooked him a hotdog an hour earlier. Luckily, they were right there to lift him off immediately. But the damage was done.

The family camping trip to a park in Columbus, Indiana, ended with an ambulance ride to Indianapolis on July 22 and a weeklong stay at Riley Hospital for Children, where Gordy underwent skin graft surgery for serious burns on his arms and hand.

“His left arm took the brunt,” Claudia Leavell said. “The fire had been out for a while, but it was still hot.”

When Gordy’s mom saw the burns, she called 911 while the toddler’s dad retrieved a first-aid kit from the couple’s camper and soothed his son’s arm with a gel burn pad.

A volunteer firefighter who happened to be at the pool nearby heard the call on his radio and rushed to see if he could help. He couldn’t assist with a burn, but he stayed with the Elwood couple until an ambulance arrived.

Meanwhile, nearby campers helped Jack load up his camper, while Claudia climbed into the ambulance to ride with her son, who by that time was asleep, exhausted by his tears.

Jack took the couple’s 3-month-old son, Gunnar, with him as he followed the ambulance to Riley.

Once there, the Riley burn team met them in the emergency department, ready to clean the burns, wrap his arms and send him up to the burn unit.

A few days later, Gordy underwent surgery, during which Dr. Brett Hartman used a donor site on the boy’s thigh to graft skin onto his left arm and applied spray skin to his left hand and right arm.

Burns are among the most painful injuries a person can suffer, but Gordy was a trooper through it all, his mom said.

“Gordy wanted to help change his own dressings,” she said. “He would take them off, kiss them, let the team redress them, then help wrap his arms. He was so intrigued by the boo-boos.”

The burn team was amazing every day, she added.

“They were so incredible to us. Just seeing all the other kids up there, we appreciated them so much.”

Burn nurse Angela Seitz remembers her young patient well.

“That little boy is such a happy kid. He makes taking care of him fun,” she said. “And his parents are amazing.”

She has a special message for Gordy, who returns to Riley every two weeks for dressing changes.

“Thanks for the high fives, buddy.”

Others involved with his care included nurse Christopher Swift, physician assistant Elissa Guevara, nurse practitioner Abigail Chapman and child life specialist Taylor Cox.

Claudia said Gordy’s arms are healing well, and he’s even back to playing his version of baseball, a game the 2-year-old naturally calls “Hey Batter.”

Even though he seems unfazed by the trauma, his parents are kicking themselves for not having a protective fence around the campfire site and encourage all parents to take the extra precaution.

“He knows fire is bad, and he doesn’t go near it,” she said. “But this is a lesson we had to learn. I pray that I can save at least one family from going through what we have.”

She learned something else through this accident.

“Gordy is the strongest kid I’ve ever met in my life. All the doctors and nurses are just amazed by his strength. I’m so grateful that I get to hold my baby tonight. He is irreplaceable.”

Related Doctor

related doctor headshot photo

Brett C. Hartman, DO

Plastic Surgery