Karizma Zitlali Vargus was just like any other baby girl. Happy, vibrant, and just starting to talk, when a kitchen accident at 14 months old changed her life forever.
Her mother, Maribel Landeros, was cooking a meal in the kitchen, multi-tasking in a way I’m sure many parents can relate to. Serving both kitchen and child care duties, she placed her daughter in a high chair where she was working. The girl wanted a piece of fruit, so she gave her one. Steam was starting to rise from the rice cooker sitting on the counter, so Maribel lifted the lid to check it before turning away to the sink to wash her hands.
That’s about the time the rice cooker’s electrical cord slid down the wall…just the type of thing a curious baby might find interesting. Karizma twisted in her high chair and reached out to grab the cord, pulling the rice, steam, and boiling water on top of herself.
The heat melted the girl’s skin from her face like butter. Mom poured her daughter under cold water and raced her to the emergency room. Karizma hadn’t just burned herself on the outside: inhaling the steam had burned her insides as well. The girl spent more than a month intubated in intensive care. When doctors eventually removed her breathing tube, she struggled to breathe on her own, so they decided to reintubate her.
During that procedure things would go from bad to worse. Karizma went into cardiac arrest, and in the 30 minutes it took to get her heart started again, she suffered permanent brain damage. This left her unable to speak or control the movement of her limbs. As if to kick the family when they were down, after returning from the hospital, thieves broke into the family car and stole, among other things, all the videos they had of Karizma pre-accident. Sometimes when it rains, it pours.
For all intents and purposes, Karizma’s life was robbed of her that day. Severely brain damaged and suffering chronic disease as a result of the accident, she can’t walk or talk, and suffers from lung disease and lesions on her gastrointestinal tract that make it hard to eat. This accident only counts as a child injured in the official statistics, but calling it a mere injury doesn’t seem to do the situation justice.
Why would I want to tell you such a depressing story? Because such an accident could have happened to any parent, and I’m a strong believer that greater awareness of how things go wrong will build up that voice in the back of your head that keeps you out of similar situations.
Let this story be a reminder to hug your kids and count your blessings, appreciating what you have each day. Be conscious of dangling cords throughout the house that kids might pull, and try to keep your little ones out of the kitchen when cooking.
1. Chelcey Adami, “Love and hope drive inspirational mother,” USA Today, May 19, 2021, pp. 1D, 2D