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Burned teenager is making progress

Michael Brewer of Florida still faces skin-graft surgeries and rehab, but his spirits are said to be better every day since he was doused with rubbing alcohol Oct. 12 and set on fire.

November 26, 2009|By Mike Clary
  • Michael, 15, suffered burns over two-thirds of his body. HeÂ’s now out of intensive care but still faces surgeries and rehab.
Michael, 15, suffered burns over two-thirds of his body. HeÂ’s… (Jackson Health System )

Reporting from Miami — In the six weeks since he was doused with rubbing alcohol and set ablaze, teen burn victim Michael Brewer has received hundreds of get-well messages, a basket of cookies from talk show host Larry King and a visit this week from former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.

"I haven't seen him smile that much since we've been here," his mother, Valerie Brewer, said during a news conference Wednesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Burn Center. The 15-year-old is being treated for second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body.

But perhaps the gift most important in his daily struggle for recovery from the Oct. 12 attack is a heavy-metal CD, "The Essential Ozzy Osbourne," sent by the rocker himself. Michael plays the album during what his mother called "the torture hour" -- when his bandages are removed and he is abraded with gauze to remove dead skin.

"He jams out to the music, and that helps him get through it," Valerie Brewer said. "I am so proud of him. He surprises me every day with his will to live, his will to survive."

Dr. Carl Schulman, associate director of the burn center, said Michael "is doing as well as we could possibly expect." Now out of intensive care, he is in a private room.

But he faces more skin-graft surgeries and physical rehabilitation, and may be months away from returning home to Deerfield Beach, Fla., Schulman said.

Although Michael's face and hands were largely spared from burns, "with the areas where he is burned, he will never be normal," Schulman said. Especially troublesome, he said, will be the skin over his elbows and knees, which are unlikely to regain normal elasticity.

Michael also sees a psychologist daily to deal with the horror of the assault and his image of himself as a disfigured teen.

"His spirits seem to be better every day," Schulman said. "It is normal to be depressed. He is a teen, and going to have issues with body image."

Three teens who attended Deerfield Beach Middle School with Michael Brewer have been charged with attempted murder in the attack outside an apartment complex. Police say the boys doused Michael with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire. Two other teens were arrested and released after prosecutors decided not to charge them.

Asked during the news conference how she was coping, Valerie Brewer said: "The second day we were here I got down on my knees and prayed to God to take my anger and my hatred, because I knew that if I kept it inside me, I couldn't focus on my son. And he did."

Brewer added that she did not watch news accounts of the legal proceedings, and did not see the televised statement made Tuesday by Jeremy Jarvis, 13, one of the two teens initially held in the attack and later released.

"I'm living the nightmare, so I don't watch it on TV," Brewer said.

But outside the hospital, her husband, Michael Brewer Sr., said he and his son saw a clip of Jeremy reading the statement in which he expressed sympathy for his former friend and said he was praying for Michael's recovery.

The father said his son had "an 'Oh, well' reaction."

As for his own thoughts, Michael Sr. said, "Apologize all you want, but what's done is done.

"Keep your apology to yourself. I'd rather not hear it."

mclary@sunsentinel.com

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