News 12 at 6 o'clock, November 13, 2008
This article is Part Two in a series on the Joseph M. Still Burn Center.
Augusta's burn center has been in the news a lot lately. First the sugar refinery explosion in Savannah, then the plane crash in Columbia that sent a couple of celebrities to Augusta for treatment. But 13 years ago, there was another plane crash, this one in Augusta.
A twin engine Cessna crashed into an office building, killing all four Swainsboro men on board. It sent a fireball into the office where Shirley Badke was working and it marked the beginning of another amazing survival story at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center. One that she's never been told publicly until now. She still has the scars from that day, but she's... still Shirley.
January 12th, 1995. It's a day Shirley Badke will never forget.
"I remember every bit of it," she told me from her kitchen in south Augusta. "I remember looking up- who I was talking on the phone to when it happened. I saw the rolling ball of fire coming straight at me- and I jumped up and yelled and was immediately covered in burning aviation fuel."
And those of us who covered it will never forget it either. News 12 was there with live reports from early that morning- straight through the 11 o'clock news that night. I was there that day too, anchoring all the reports from the scene.
Shirley remembers the co-worker who dragged her out the back door- by her left hand. She was using her right one -to put out the flames.
"...cause I was a burning body of fire- from head to toe," she said.
She even remembers the ambulance ride, the doctors in the ER and her husband Jeff coming in.
"We told each other I love you- is probably the last thing we probably said to each other. I remember going to the burn unit- then they put me into a drug induced coma."
That coma that lasted four months. Four months with her family by the bedside- talking with Shirley. Telling her stories. Filling her in on life outside the hospital.
"And it took me years to figure out exactly, cause I remember concerts, limousines, helicopters, vacations- and I never left the burn unit."
And through it all, from the plane crash to the fireball that burned 85% of her body, Shirley never thought she was going to die.
"No, when I woke up four months later it was, 'I gotta get out of bed and go to work'."
The fact is she couldn't even lift her hand. Looking back on it all now, Shirley knows her extreme injuries pushed doctors at the Joseph M.Still Burn Center to test the limits of medicine.
"The cultured skin that I have all over my body, I was probably the first that they use it on major load bearing areas on the body. They had no idea if it would hold up."
There was surgery after surgery, but most of her new skin did hold up, and just 18 months after the fire, Shirley Badke carried the Olympic Flame through the streets of Augusta. She remembers thinking, what a strange thing that was.
"Ok a burn patient with a ball of fire in the middle of a road in July in Augusta Georgia. That is the crazy..."
The craziest thing she could imagine, but she did it anyway. That's Shirley.
These days she prefers long walks in the woods. Sometimes with her husband Jeff. Sometimes alone.
"No matter how bad the day is, or how crappy people can be, cause people can be very cruel, I walk out in the woods- and its calming."
That's where she goes to cry and where she goes to pray. Shirley Badke prays for a very special place, The Joseph M. Still burn center and the people there who saved her.
"I pray for the patients and the doctors and the staff--every day."
She is amazing. And all these years later, she is still Shirley.