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For burned illegal immigrants, a long road to recovery

October 7, 2008 | 11:10 am


They arrived by ambulance every half-hour, their blistering wounds caked in soot and mud. In the hospital trauma bay, doctors examined their scorched backs and limbs, black in the sterile, white light. They smelled of burnt flesh.

Nurses removed clothing. In went the breathing tubes and catheters, the intravenous liquids. Blood and X-rays were taken. Some patients were rushed from emergency to intensive care to make room for others.

"They just kept coming; it was challenging to keep up," said Dr. Bruce Potenza, director of the UC San Diego Regional Burn Center. "The burns were covered with all sorts of debris, their faces, . . . their noses, every part of them. . . . You couldn't tell what was burned because everything looked burned."

This is part two of an in-depth report by Marjorie Miller and photographer Don Bartletti on men and women caught in last October's Harris fire in San Diego County after illegally crossing the border from Mexico.

Read part one here.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Image: Physical therapist Sarah Hershel works with Harris fire victim Nicolas Beltran in the burn center at UC San Diego Medical Center. He had recently awakened from a two-month induced coma while surgeons repaired third-degree burns over 40% of his body. Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times