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Through the Fire: Rebecca Rosengren overcomes her scars

By Scott Collins
Photography by Russ Dilday

The scars you see will never go away. The ones you don’t see already have.

Rebecca Rosengren was a tiny toddler 20 years ago when a raging house fire consumed not only her home, but 75 percent of her little body, leaving her burned and near death. Heavy doses of antibiotics saved her life, but took her hearing, leaving her deaf. Scars from dozens of surgeries cover her arms, legs and part of her head.

Rebecca’s face was all that was visible the first time Sidney Rosengren, a registered nurse, saw her in 1992. Rebecca was Sidney’s patient in the intensive care unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Rebecca spent 192 days in the hospital, surrounded by a jungle of I.V. poles and respirator cables. Tubes snaked out of her nose and mouth. Water saturation had bloated her tiny features.

Sidney remembers looking at the child’s blue eyes and thinking, “That’s the most beautiful face I have ever seen.”

Rebecca’s parents, jobless at the time of the fire, stopped visiting her at the hospital and Sidney poured her heart into Rebecca’s care. Sidney knew she had to adopt Rebecca. “I just started trying to be a mother for her,” Sidney said the first time Rebecca appeared in Buckner Today in 1995.

Sidney asked to be assigned to Rebecca every chance she could. She cuddled and rocked her. She painted her nails. She lugged Rebecca in a wagon, respirator and all, around the hospital room. With each of the 192 days Rebecca was in the hospital, Sidney grew more attached to her.

When the time came for Rebecca to leave the hospital, the severity of her burns required detailed medical care too serious for her to be placed in a regular foster home. There were two choices: assign Rebecca to a nursing home, or place her in a unique Buckner foster group home in Tyler. Buckner got the nod.

Her Buckner foster parents, Judy and Stephen Foster, spent months nursing Rebecca through painful, often gruesome, therapy. That special care and attention allowed her to heal, both inside and out.

When an agreement with the biological family was reached, the Fosters, not the Rosengrens, were asked if they wanted to adopt Rebecca. The Fosters had cared for more than 200 foster children, but they had adopted only one.

“When I prayed to God for a child, he gave me Stephen Jr.,” Judy said. “When I prayed and asked for a daughter, he gave me Rebecca. He just said I couldn’t keep her.”

Sidney and Bret Rosengren became Rebecca’s respite caregivers through Buckner while details of the adoption where finalized. Finally, in November 1994, nearly three years after the accident, the adoption was final. She was Rebecca Rosengren.

Today, Rebecca has graduated from the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. She lives in her own apartment and is surrounded by a large group of friends. She is a vivacious 23-year-old young lady living in Oklahoma City. She loves to read, especially the Harry Potter books and she loves Facebook, shopping, her two cats and Sidney’s dog, Sammy.

Eventually, Rebecca wants to work with children in early childhood education, specializing in helping children with developmental needs.

“I care a lot when I see people with special needs,” Rebecca signs with her hands. “It makes me feel sorry for them because I understand. I know because of what I’ve been through. I know what it’s like.”

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