Family recovers from vehicle fire

October 24, 2005|by JANET HEIM


When Melissa and Dominick DiMercurio II made front-page news this summer, they were in no position to enjoy the limelight.

The siblings were being treated in the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., after escaping a fiery accident.

On July 26, the DiMercurio family - Melissa, 16, Dominick, 11, Nicholas, 8, and their parents, Dom and Donna, both 44 - was returning to its home in Brightwood Acres East after visiting family in Long Island, N.Y. The family's minivan was on Interstate 78 in New Jersey when a vehicle in front kicked up a piece of metal that is believed to have punctured the van's gas tank.

Suddenly, the minivan was on fire. Melissa saw the flames first and started yelling.

Cutting across two lanes of traffic, Dom DiMercurio pulled onto the right shoulder. Melissa said she threw open a side door and jumped out.


Her brother, Dominick, was not as quick to jump out. Caught in his seat belt, it took him some time to free himself.

Dom DiMercurio escaped, too. But Donna DiMercurio couldn't get the front passenger door open because the van had stopped against a guardrail. She said she saw her youngest child, Nicholas, still in a back seat. She jumped over the driver's seat, got him out of his seat belt and out of the van to safety.

The family's escape was over in about 15 seconds, but Donna DiMercurio said, "it felt like forever."

'Angels and miracles'

Looking back, the DiMercurio family rejoices in the blessings - the "angels and miracles" - they saw that day.

As the family watched their minivan burn, motorists pulled over to help. Some had bottled water which was poured over Melissa's and Dominick's burns to cool them and keep the burns from going any deeper while awaiting the ambulances. Another motorist provided emotional support to Dom and Donna DiMercurio on the side of the road, reassuring them they had done everything they could.

Even in the accident's location, very near to St. Barnabas Medical Center - the DiMercurios see a miracle. The medical center is one of the best burn care units in the United States.

Melissa suffered second-degree burns on both legs and ankle, while Dominick had third-degree burns on both legs, left arm and hand.

Melissa was in the hospital for 10 days. Dominick had two skin graft surgeries, which prolonged his hospital stay to 18 days.

Recovery and support

Melissa has gone to classes at Boonsboro High School since the school year began in August. Dominick worked with a tutor, and on Oct. 3 returned to Boonsboro Middle School part-time.

To prevent scar tissue from forming as his skin grafts heal, Dominick is supposed to be up and moving as much as possible. His biggest complaint right now is itching - but that's a sign of healing.

Both children will have to wear medical pressure garments for a year to keep the skin smooth as it heals.

Both Melissa and Dominick said that when they see a fire, their burns get hot. All three children are now sensitive to the smell of smoke, Donna DiMercurio said.

Nicholas, a third-grader at Greenbrier Elementary School, wasn't hurt in the fire. But, his mother said, he doesn't like to be alone now.

"The community has been amazing - the letters, the prayers, the meals, the visits," Donna DiMercurio said. "We were grateful to be close enough to have the support of family and friends in New York who visited in the hospital and helped us emotionally through this terrible ordeal."

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