Burn survivor Megan McKeon is just like any other teenager: she loves gymnastics, listening to country music and Sour Patch Kids candy.
Born in Latvia in 2000, the 15-year-old Clovis resident and amputee is lucky to be alive.
At five months old, her biological mother dropped a lit cigarette in her crib. The blanket smoldered for hours before Megan received medical treatment.
At the Latvia Republic Children’s Hospital, doctors worked to save the young girl but had to amputate her left leg due to the severity and extent of the burns she suffered.
Over the next few years, Megan would have 38 surgeries.
From Oct. 21 to 24, Megan will attend the Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress. The annual international conference brings together over 900 burn survivors, firefighters and each year to participate in workshops, hear speeches and attend seminars.
“I’m going to be trained in how to be a burn mentor,” Megan said. “I’m learning how to help other people with new burns, help them cope with that.
“I’m excited about it,” she continued. “Being able to reach out to other kids and help them through the process, will be a great feeling.”
Megan attends Clovis West High School and after graduating hopes to work with burn victims as a doctor in a hospital’s burn center.
“I’m hoping to get into a good school with a [medicine] program as long as I keep my grades up,” Megan said.
For the past several years, Megan has been a motivational speaker and has shared her story.
“I’m very open about pretty much anything — my disability, my circumstances,” she said. “But it’s definitely something I’ve had to learn.
“When I was younger, I used to be very self-conscious about what happened to me because I always used to get stares. I got bullied in elementary school but I think, over time, I just kind of got used to it.
“I know that most kids are just curious about what’s happened because they don’t see it very often, so I’ve just gotten to the point where it’s like, ‘OK, talk to me! Ask me anything!’”
For the past 10 years, Megan has spent much of her life training and working with Break the Barriers, a local organization committed to enhancing the talents of athletes of all abilities. Megan serves on the international team, which travels around the world to perform and put on seminars about ability awareness.
“This year, it was awesome to see her blossom into someone that really understands the importance of our team and the importance of outreach,” executive director Deby Hergenrader said.
Hergenrader recalled how Megan inspired and motivated others on a trip to Peru in July.
“I would see Megan searching out kids to connect with,” Hergenrader said. “There was a little boy named Angelito, who has no arms and no legs.
“Once Megan saw him staring at her, she said, ‘Come here!’ She really understands the hope that she’s given this little boy.”
Megan is one person who has broken many barriers, Hergenrader believes.
“What was meant to be a bad situation, Megan and her family have turned it into something really great,” she said.
Susan McKeon, Megan’s adoptive mother, recalled how she and her husband Mark learned of Megan’s story.
“We were living in Sacramento and we were both kind of bored,” Susan said. “He had the opportunity to go to Latvia.”
Looking for new experiences, Susan, Mark and their three children left for Latvia in February 2000.
“I said to everyone around, ‘We can adopt three kids while we’re here — let’s try to adopt three kids,’” Susan said. “Because we wanted six kids.”
In December of that year, a coworker made Susan aware of Megan’s story.
“I was working as a nurse at the American Embassy,” she said, “And the other nurse working there threw this article at me and said, ‘Here’s a baby for you.’”
Susan was handed a Russian magazine article about Megan.
“I couldn’t read the article but there was a little tiny 1-inch picture of Megan,” Susan said. “I asked, ‘What does it say?’”
“‘She’s been burned and they’re looking for a home for her,’” Susan was told by the nurse. “‘She’s missing a leg.’”
The day after Christmas in the year 2000, Susan and Mark McKeon headed to the hospital to see Megan for the time. Six months later, they finished the adoption process. (The family tried to adopt another girl as well, but the adoption fell through.)
Since Megan was 3 years old, Susan has been astonished at Megan’s drive and determination.
In 2004, while living in the Netherlands, Megan decided she wanted her mother to teach her to how to skip.
“I said, ‘Oh, Meg, you only have one leg,’” Susan said. “‘You can’t skip with one leg,’”
“‘I didn’t ask you how many legs I have,” Megan replied. “I asked you to teach me how to skip.”