Help Fire Victim Get Her Life Back

$21,446 of $50,000 goal

Raised by 403 people in 22 months
Bitseat Getaneh
on behalf of Bilen Gebrekal
Just hours after traveling from Ethiopia to the United States to attend school, 16-year-old Bitseat Getaneh was seriously injured in a fire and explosion that killed 7 people and injured dozens more.  What follows is her story of that tragic, traumatic event – and her dreams for her future.  She has come far in the past four months, but now needs for your support to help her get her life back on track to work toward her goals. Please share her story.

Continue reading for full story: by  Bitseat Gitaneh  as told to Yodit and Nick

On August 10, 2016, I embarked on my dream of coming to the United States, where I planned to attend school to become a neurosurgeon. I wanted to use my training to help people all over the world. It took 18 hours to fly from my native country of Ethiopia to Dulles International Airport, and after landing, I was very happy and excited to see Asseged. He was a close family friend with whom I would stay with in the interim before I left for Corn Academy in Oklahoma, where I would be attending 12th grade. He picked me up from the airport and we headed to his home at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland. After he settled me in, he left to do some work. I took a nap after taking a bath. His wife Saeda came around 4:15pm, and after we ate dinner, I went to bed around 8:45pm. 

Around midnight I started feeling very hot, and I woke up to realize the room was on fire. At first, I thought I was still dreaming. I blinked several times, thinking that would make everything go away, but I soon realized this was far too real. I tried to run, but it was too hard and so I started praying to God, begging Him to spare my life, asking Him to not let me die.

Somehow, I found myself outside the apartment. I could already feel the burns on my body but everyone around me was running to escape the fire and so I started running too. I begged the man running alongside me to please take me to the hospital, but he could only speak Spanish and didn’t understand me.  While we were running, we found an Ethiopian man named Surafeal, and he and I saw a policeman amid all the chaos. The officer told me to calm down, but I couldn’t and continued to run in the hopes of finding someone who could help me with the pain. We found two other officers who were administering first aid. They cut through the pajamas I was wearing to cover my burns with gauze. Eventually an ambulance came and the paramedics in it started asking me questions, such as my name and date of birth. Because I was still a minor, the paramedics took me to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. All throughout the ride, I was having sensations of feeling hot and then cold and was asking the paramedic to turn the AC on and off.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was immediately surrounded by a group of doctors who came to examine me. I was very nervous; they put a breathing tube through my nose and start checking for the burns but my voice started to waiver. The doctors thought that I had breathing difficulties but then I told them it’s because I had a flu. They started checking if I had a smoke in my body and luckily, there was none. The doctors got a call telling them that more victims would be on the way, and so they transferred me to another room to make room for others.

Throughout all of this, I thought Asseged and Saeda had made it somehow. I thought that they were in another hospital, perhaps wondering what had happened to me. Surafel was still with me, holding my hand and comforting me the entire time. He was helping me call Saeda to ask her not to tell my parents who were back in Ethiopia about this incident, because I didn’t want them worrying, but turns out that it was the wrong number. A nurse came into the room and administered some medicine that would help me sleep, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open because I was so afraid that I would lose my second chance at life if I fell asleep.

The next morning, Surafael left the room to eat his breakfast, and the doctors came to check on me. They told me that they wanted to call my parents because they couldn’t do anything without their consent because I was underage, but then I said no and I started crying because I don’t want them to hear about this disaster. They didn’t want to pressure me so they gave me some time to think about it. I was told that I would be moved to the fifth floor, but Surafel wasn’t allowed to come with me because he was not considered to be family; he was just a man from the neighborhood. Before he left, he promised me that he would come again to visit me.

They put me on a wheelchair and we went to my new room. They had to weigh me before I was placed on the bed and I was made to stand on the scale, which was very painful because of my burns. To my shock, the scale said I weighed 109 pounds, but the nurse reassured me that it was because of dehydration. After a while, a social worker was brought in to talk to me about my parents. She finally convinced me to tell them about what had happened and so I agreed to call my mom. She was so shocked to hear about what had happened but she gave her consent for my treatment. The doctors started working on my burns, which were third degree in nature and covered 17% of my body. I was hospitalized for about 3 weeks.

7 people died that night in the fire, 2 of whom were very young children. Asseged and Saeda were among those killed. I didn’t find out about them perishing until I was discharged from the hospital, by which time my mother had come from Ethiopia to see to my care. We stayed in a hotel immediately after leaving the hospital, and we recently moved into an apartment in Silver Spring. After about a month after the fire, I went back to the site to see that the building I was in was completely destroyed. Although I thank God that I was able to walk away with my life, I suffered and still continue to suffer from extensive wounds. My right hand, left hand, belly and face were burned, in addition to my clavicle having been broken at some point during my escape. I have to attend occupational therapy sessions twice a week for an indefinite period of time. Be that as it may, I am grateful to have my life, when so many lost theirs that night.

 Bitseat turned 17 in the hospital, where she spent several weeks beginning what will be a years-long recovery from burns covering much of her body and other serious injuries.  Physically and emotionally unready to attend school as she had planned this semester, Bitseat now hopes to begin her studies in January, while she continues her recovery, but many barriers remain.  Tuition funds she brought with her were lost in the fire. By missing the first semester completely, her timetable for finishing high school and starting college has changed significantly and her family has incurred extra expenses in sending her mother to be with her during this tragic time.  The family’s extra costs in sending her mother to America, replacing tuition funds lost in the fire, possible additional tuition and additional living expenses are costs now beyond their current means.  Please help Bitseat get her life back on track for the bright future she deserves.

This campaign is created for Bitseat Getaneh from Ethiopia currently living in Silver Spring, MD. It is created by Bitseat and her friends and families to help raise funds for her education and living expenses in the wake of the tragedy in August. As an international student, Bitseat must pay tuition in order for her to attend Montgomery County Public School.The fund will be deposited to an account where it will be used to pay the tuition.

Bilen Gebrekal is a family friend who helped set up the campaign, manage the account and help me withdraw the fund so we can have the fund ready for the tuition which is due next week.

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$21,446 of $50,000 goal

Raised by 403 people in 22 months
Created December 2, 2016
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