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Holidays in Shadow as Aunt Bindy Fights for Life

November 24, 2000|Steve Chawkins

Thanksgiving had everything but Auntie Bindy.

Bindy--that's what the girls called their Aunt Belinda--was in the hospital, in a twilight of fever and pain.

So for Belinda Tristan, there was no turkey, no stuffing, no sweet potato pie. And for the family, there was no Bindy.

Belinda was pulled out of her blazing Simi Valley condo two months ago, severely burned.

Family members and friends hold vigil at County-USC Medical Center. Visitors talk to her, but she drifts in and, more often, out; besides, the ventilator in her mouth prevents her from answering, even if she could. Some inscribe their best wishes in a book they know she might never get to read.

Fight on, urged one of her nieces. We have to have more Auntie Bindy Days!

A typical Auntie Bindy Day involved: A movie. McDonald's. An impromptu beauty session back at the condo.

"They'd pin up her hair, they'd put makeup on her face, they'd do her nails, they'd run around," said Karen Cussins, their mother and Belinda's sister. "By the end, she'd look like some kind of crazy clown, with makeup smeared all over the place. They'd all have a blast."

Bindy had a parakeet--Priscilla--that she managed to keep alive for more than six years. And she had all kinds of plants.

"She was really good with them," Cussins said. "We'd give her all our dead plants and she'd bring them back to life."

But the fire killed the bird and charred the plants, and destroyed all of Bindy's furniture and clothing, and swept away everything of Bindy but the loving people who gather at her room and the impossibly scarred 42-year-old woman lying in her bed.

For the first few days, she could respond to questions--sometimes by shaking her head, at other times by wriggling a leg.

"I asked her if she was afraid, and she shook her head no," Cussins said. "I asked her if she felt God around her, and she said yes."

Prayer groups pray for her. Her name is recited in Simi Valley churches. A group of Buddhist monks--friends of a friend of her son--include her in their meditations.

At the time of the fire, she was unemployed and had no health insurance.

Linda Wohlfahrt,an old friend who had lost touch with Belinda years ago, has set out collection cans in a cafe here, a video store there. Selling home-warranty policies, she also has passed the hat at a couple of Simi Valley real estate firms. So far, she has collected about $2,000. (The fund's address is: Belinda Tristan Burn Fund, Camarillo Community Bank, 1150 Paseo Camarillo, Camarillo CA 93010.)

"Should she survive, she'll need a lot of support," Wohlfahrt said. "I'd love it if a Girl Scout troop or some other organization held a fund drive. It would be just a drop in the bucket, but it might also help her to know how many people there are out there who care."

So far, Belinda has undergone eight surgeries--most of them skin grafts. Cussins said the doctors forecast 300 more. Infections course through her body. Belinda's hands have been amputated. Her eyes are so severely damaged and her consciousness so fleeting that nobody can say for sure whether she can see.

At one time, the prognosis was upbeat: With luck, Belinda will walk out of here, a doctor told the family just a month ago. But the outlook now is less than encouraging--a one-in-five chance of survival, Cussins said, and a rehabilitation period of five years if she lives.

Nobody can presume to say whether she'll beat the odds.

All that is clear is that as the season of joy looms, a prayer, a thought, a good emanation for Auntie Bindy would not be effort wasted.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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