Brennan's Restaurant owner's child recalls night of fire

October 22, 2010 8:31:42 PM PDT
During the hours when Hurricane Ike roared in, a devastating fire destroyed the popular Brennan's Restaurant in Houston's Midtown. A father and his little girl were burned in that fire, but they both survived. For the first time, six-year-old Katherine is speaking out about her recovery and what life is like now. Katherine Koonce jumped into her mother's arms. They were precious moments for a mother who, two years ago, almost lost her only child.

Compression garments still cover all Katherine skin grafts.

"I still have them on my legs," she said.

The first grader was burned over 70 percent of her body the night of Hurricane Ike, when Brennan's Restaurant, where Katherine Koonce and her father took refuge, caught fire. Her father, who didn't want to be on camera, was burned over 50 percent of his body.

"James is also doing well," said Denise Koonce, Katherine's mother. "He's had a challenging journey, also."

Because Ike shut down Shriners and UTMB's burn centers, Katherine Koonce was sent to a California Shriners hospital. Her dad went to San Antonio. When the Galveston burn centers reopened, they continued their treatments together.

"They're each other's support, they're each other's encouragement," Denise Koonce said.

While interviewing them, Katherine Koonce suddenly got overheated. Her skin grafts don't sweat like normal skin and she can't cool off, so she had to go inside.

"Sometimes, my skin's telling me when it gets red, it's telling me I'm too hot," she said.

A few minutes later, she was back.

"I just like to play outside. And sometimes I can't when it's really hot," she said.

But then Katherine Koonce started skipping and forgot about being sad.

Katherine Koonce's story is just one of many inspiring stories at the burn conference.

Another one is of Melisa Schoeppler and Erin Mounsey, whose separate tragedies would later come to bond them in ways few people would understand.