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IN THE SPIRIT: Burn recovery to batting champ

Naomi Dunavan1 / 2
2 / 2

Keyana Dunn loves game shows, so a very good final Jeopardy answer might be: Who is Keyana Dunn?

The category is sports and here's the clue:

"At the age of 2, this athlete suffered second- and third-degree burns over 25 percent of her body. Today as a high school senior and despite six skin grafting surgeries and flexibility issues, she carries a .465 softball batting average."

Even a Minnesota Twin baseball player doesn't bat that well!

This week Keyana flew from her home in Woodbridge, Va., to Nashville, Tenn., where she's being recruited by Fisk University coaches. Next will be recruitment meetings at Kentucky State University and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

On June 15, Keyana graduates from Woodbridge Senior High and in July, she'll play softball on America's Team in the Dominican Republic coached by two former Olympic softball players, Leah Amico and Dot Richardson.

"Going overseas and playing for my country will be incredible," she said. "I don't even know how to explain it."

When Keyana has time to catch her breath, she loves coming back to Grand Forks where she was born to visit her grandparents Dennis and Kathy Dunn.

"What she went through that I witnessed was excruciating pain," Dennis said. "She is a trooper. She is quite the girl and pretty special."

Grateful is how Keyana feels about every one of the long and agonizing steps she's taken since the day she ended up on the kitchen floor sitting in boiling water to where she is these 16 years later.

"I think it's good that I've gone through this," Keyana said. "It has made me who I am today. It changes the way you look at other people who have problems or disabilities. It makes you more accepting."

Original story

In December 1997, I told Herald readers about Keyana's tragic accident:

It was chicken fettuccini night at her house and a kettle of water was boiling on the stove. At 2, Keyana loved to "help," her mom, Darci Dunn, so she'd sit on the cupboard between the sink and the stove with a cloth in her hand pretending to wash dishes.

Suddenly Keyana swung her legs around and accidentally kicked the pan off the stove. She crashed to the floor with it and landed sitting up in scalding water. Burned was her bottom, all her left leg and part of her right leg, elbow and wrist.

Darci grabbed her toddler, stripped her clothes, put her in a tub of cold water and called 911. A few hours later, mother and daughter were airlifted from Altru Hospital to the burn unit at St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center.

Keyana needed skin grafting but the next day her breathing became raspy and shallow -- pneumonia. So that Keyana's body could first fight the pneumonia, doctors put cadaver skin on her as a basis.

Five days later, she was strong enough for surgery to graft skin from her back to the burned areas. She stayed on a ventilator for nine days and had four blood and two plasma transfusions. A week later, she was put in a cast from the hips down to protect the grafts. After that mother and daughter traveled to St. Paul from Grand Forks every two weeks for a cast change.

Darci, a single mom, stayed in Grand Forks with Keyana until 1999 when she moved to Arizona to be near her sister.

Because Keyana's medical needs were sponsored by Grand Forks Shriner's, she became a patient at Shriner's Hospitals closest to where they lived.

In 2000, Keyana had the first of her six "release," surgeries in Sacramento, Calif. "Release is where strips of skin are laid where the grafted skin cannot grow and it gets very tight and painful," Darci said.

In 2001, Darci's job transferred them to Baltimore, Md., and then to Virginia where she is employed by LMG International, a brokerage and advisory firm. Keyana's release surgeries have continued at the Shriner's Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Keyana needs one more surgery, but because she's so far into her athletic career, her doctors have given her the choice to wait. "They'll treat her until she's 21," Darci said. "They say, 'when you're ready, we'll do it.'"

How playing ball began

Keyana tried other sports, "but softball really seemed to be the one for me," she said

When she was 5, one of the dads at her elementary school coached Little League softball "and it just stuck," Darci said. "She got better and better and better. She has played on recreation teams, in middle school and now high school. She also has been playing travel softball since 2008 in a very competitive league called the Virginia Crushers."

This National Black Scholar award winner, who maintains a 3.5 GPA, was studying Spanish when I called her this week. "It's not too hard and I like history, too," she said.

Keyana, who doesn't remember the accident, said from a distance her muscular legs look pretty much normal, but when people get close up they tend to stare at her scars.

"It's like they want to know what happened but are afraid to ask," she said. "I think asking is better than just staring at me. Once people know, they are much more understanding."

Keyana has a dream. "We have a couple friends who are trainers and I'd like to start a softball camp for girls who have been burned," she said. "When we think about all the camps I've been to, there's nothing specifically for athletes so they can know they can do things like this and get out there and be active. I'd like to have doctors there so all the needs will be met."

And as for a college, Keyana has two interests: political science and, "I would like to do something in law enforcement," she said, "like my grandfather." Dennis Dunn served with the Grand Forks Police Department for 34 years.

Darci still has days when she thinks, "Gosh, if Keyana hadn't been on the counter. I really felt like it was my fault, but I know she is destined for great things. She has an amazing spirit and is an amazing sister to her younger brother Isaiah. She still has pain but it doesn't stop her drive or dedication. She lets nothing hold her back. She's grown up being different and it's turned her into an amazingly well-balanced young lady."

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