Teen burned as a baby lives to graduate | News
Lakeland, Florida - Mary White's kitchen is stacked full of food for Lakeland High's graduation party.
"We have chips, we have nachos, cupcakes," White ticks off a long list.
White's adopted son, Arthur Zager, walks tomorrow. "This is my graduation gown," he says, lifting up a hanger.
These are exciting times for a young man who had a very rough start. "He had third degree burns," says Mary paging through a photo album.
Photo Gallery: Teen burned as a baby lives to graduate
At just two months, Arthur was severely burned by bathtub water in the home of his biological parents. Doctors at the Shriners burn hospital in Cincinnati suspected an adult had dipped the baby into the scalding water.
As a family friend, Mary took over Arthur's care. She went to Cincinnati to learn how to care for his wounds and how to put on the tight pressure suits the baby had to wear. Doctors warned her not to get too attached, because they didn't expect Arthur to live.
While child abuse was never proven in criminal court, Mary fought to keep Arthur with her and in a safe environment. And Mary credits news reports by this reporter* with focusing attention on Arthur's case.
"If he had gone back (to his family), yes, he wouldn't be here today," says Mary.
Arthur doesn't dwell on his past, but this aspiring musician says it has shaped him. "Every day poses a new challenge and you face that challenge. And you go through it the best you can with a smile on your face," says Arthur.
So 18 years after this reporter first held Arthur, I received a letter from Mary filled with kind words. "You were a main factor in saving this young man's life," she wrote.
She included a current photo of Arthur and his graduation announcement. And right along with his mom, I'm pleased to help mark this milestone.
"I'm very proud," says Mary, sitting at a dining room table with me and wiping away a tear. "He's a remarkable man he's turning into... and you had a hand in saving him."
* In 1994, Kathryn Bursch worked for WTOG-TV in St. Petersburg.