From the Fire to the Light
Brayden, 6, and Micah, 8, are brothers whose game of touch football quickly turned to tackling.
"We like tackling each other!" they yelled.
But, Brayden faced a different opponent that threatened to knock him out for good.
"It's heartbreaking," said his mother, Kari McNeil.
"Something you'll never forget. We had a trash fire. My wife was inside the house starting supper and they was going to roast marshmallows and we didn't know he was outside and he threw gas on the fire," their father, Kevin McNeil, explained. "When Brayden came inside the house, he had flames above his head. I couldn't even see his face. He was burnt. He come in the house and he was on fire. I took him to the bathtub and put him out and he had skin rolling off of him. They airlifted him to the university. I wish in so many ways I could go back and change things. You feel guilty. You cry a lot."
Kari added, "Kevin was just beside himself because he got burnt whenever he was peeling Brayden's clothes off. He knew the pain Brayden was in, so that made it worse on Kevin."
Brayden McNeil was 5 years old when he suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70% of his body, from his neck to his knees. That near-fatal accident forced the McNeils and their two other children to spend more than three months at the hospital.
"It's really tough to see your child go through that," said Kari.
"He was in bed for 60-something days at the university. He couldn't move his legs or anything. And the first time he got up to walk with a walker, it was amazing because he knew he'd come that far," added Kevin. "The Ronald McDonald House really helped us through. We've been coming for two years now. And there's still the same volunteers. You know that's dedicated people. When you have a child in the hospital and you don't know what's going to happen to them. Them people really touch your heart."
The McNeils are one of about 900 families who make the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri their home away from home each year.
"We can sit down as a family and just have supper. It was just great as far as keeping us together. He's okay with it. He knows he's different but it doesn't bother him. He said, 'I'm tough, mom. I made it through it,' and I said, 'Yes, you are,'" said Kari.
"We've been going every month, but it's been past a month since I've been there," added Brayden. "So, they say I'm doing very good."
Brayden still sleeps with braces on and he faces at least one surgery each year until he's 18. But, this soon to be seven-year-old isn't about to lose. And, thanks to the Ronald Mc Donald House, these brothers know winning isn't always about the final score.
"Thank God we had some place to go," said Kari.
"I just thank the people of Columbia for all of the support they give this place," added Kevin.
The Ronald McDonald House also runs two family rooms in University Hospital and Boone Hospital Center.