Burn survivor spent 425 days in the hospital, now relishes each day of life

May 8th, 2019
Jamie and Troy Ketchum dancing on their wedding day.
Jamie and Troy Ketchum dancing on their wedding day in Jamaica in September of 2013. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

Torrents of rain flooded the beach in Jamaica on Jamie and Troy Ketchum’s wedding day back in September of 2013.

Then, just before sunset, when the couple planned to say their vows, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and rays of sun illuminated Jamie and Troy as they stood on the beach and promised to love each other in sickness and in health.

Afterwards, they celebrated. Jamie wrapped her arms around her husband and grinned as Troy spun her around the dance floor.

Colorado Rockies first pitch

Jamie Ketchum is slated to throw out the first pitch at the Colorado Rockies game on July 15 during the first game of a double header

Game time: 12:10 p.m.

Click here for ticket information

Tragically, the “sickness” part of their lives came far too soon.

“When you get married, you think that the sickness is going to come when you’re in your 80s,” said Jamie, now 38.

But, on May 25, 2017, Jamie and Troy were headed with her parents to buy flowers for their garden when a large dump truck blew a tire and smashed into their SUV. Both vehicles burst into flames, shutting down traffic on I-25.

Jamie’s dad, James Schuppe, died instantly. Jamie, Troy and her mom, Patti Schuppe, were all injured.

Jamie suffered the most severe injuries, with burns over 95% of her body, the worst injuries doctors in the UCHealth Burn and Frostbite Center had ever seen. She had to have both legs and one arm amputated. Her mom was in bad shape too, with burns over 60% of her body.

‘I love you to infinity and back’

Jamie’s odds of surviving were terrible, but the funny, eternally optimistic patient never doubted she’d make it.

A burn survivor who lost two legs and one arm poses in her wheel chair.
Jamie Ketchum’s optimism has helped her survive a terrible car crash that left her burned over 95% of her body. One arm and two legs were so severely burned that doctors had to amputate them. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum

“Everybody is going to experience the worst day of their life at some point,” Jamie said. “Ours just happened to be at the far end of bad days.

“Now, we work to have good days.”

Jamie Ketchum in a hospital bed at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
Jamie Ketchum spent 425 days in the UCHealth Burn and Fostbite Center at University of Colorado Hospital. Her stay was the longest of any burn patient. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

Troy, 47, spent every day at his wife’s side during her hospital stay. He promised to love her “to infinity and back.” Jamie’s nurses and doctors always talked about the day when she would get to go home. And, after 425 days, the longest a patient had ever spent in the burn unit, Jamie was discharged from UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Rather than focusing on anger or loss, she’s relishing life: skiing, playing hockey and recently visiting a dude ranch. She has big plans for her future including walking again, cooking her famous stuffed pork chops for Troy again someday and climbing to the second story of the Ketchums’ beloved Denver home, a Victorian built in 1912.

Throwing first pitch at a Colorado Rockies game

Jamie recently sat in her wheel chair on the brick and wood front porch, waving to neighbors and practicing for what will be another great day. She’s slated to throw out the first pitch at the 12:10 p.m. Colorado Rockies game on July 15.

Jamie and Troy Ketchum pose at a Colorado Rockies game. She is in a wheel chair after surviving terrible burns. But she continues to smile.
Jamie and Troy Ketchum at a Colorado Rockies game after they survived a fiery car crash. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

Jamie used to be a pitcher back in high school. Before the collision, she loved joking around and showing off her athletic prowess for Troy. Once, she threw a ball to him in their front yard. It flew so far that it went way over his head and landed in the next block.

Now, Jamie’s hoping she can pitch the ball 10 feet or more. Figuring out how to throw a ball is one of many puzzles Jamie faces these days.

She has prosthetic legs, but is still learning to use them. It’s hard to get much momentum throwing from a wheel chair. The crash robbed Jamie of most of her left arm and the fire burned the fingers on her right hand into a permanent fist.

Even so, Jamie has solved the pitching puzzle, just like she and Troy figure out new ways to live every day.

She plans to balance the baseball up near her left shoulder, grip it with her right fist and thumb, then send the ball flying.

A couple smiles for a selfie at a Colorado Rockies game.
Jamie and Troy Ketchum met in the spring and enjoyed one of their first dates at a Colorado Rockies game. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

“So far, I’ve been pretty accurate,” Jamie says with a satisfied grin.

She’ll wear a purple Rockies shirt and a purple headband to sweep back hair that is growing in slowly. Riding out to the mound in her wheelchair and gazing at the players and the crowd will be a huge victory.

“Most people don’t get that opportunity in a lifetime,” she said. “Hopefully, I will inspire other people who are going through a bad situation.

“It will be very empowering. I may have to do things differently, but I can still do them.”

She’s also proud to share her journey publicly.

“We’re out and about. People in the community see me on a regular basis. Some don’t know what happened. They should know how I was hurt and that we’re trying to move forward.”

Excellent care at a verified Burn Center

Dr. Anne Wagner, medical director of the Burn Center and an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus, said most burn survivors emerge like Jamie: full of joy.

Headshot of Dr. Anne Wagner
Dr. Anne Wagner

“They survive something horrible and they are happy to go out and experience everything in life,” Wagner said.

Jamie now refers to Wagner as her Denver mom. She texts regularly with funny little updates.

The first time she went skiing after the accident, she told Wagner it was easier than skiing in the past since she no longer had to put on ski boots and other gear.

“I’m lower to ground. I feel more free,” Jamie said.

Wagner said both Jamie and her mom faced a very tough path.

“They shouldn’t have survived. But they have the best attitudes. They are happy, fun people,” Wagner said.

A woman who suffered terrible burns and lost both legs and an arm after a car crash hugs her mom as they pose on a couch.
Jamie Ketchum poses with her mom, Patti Schuppe. Jamie’s parents were in town visiting Denver and they were headed to buy flowers for the garden when a crash killed Jamie’s dad and injured Jamie, Troy and Patti. Despite the tragedy, Jamie and her mom have healed and seek to have “good days.” Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

Again and again, Jamie tells Wagner she’s living her “new normal.” And Wagner revels in each milestone Jamie achieves.

Her survival is a tribute to the Burn Center. It is the only facility in the region that is certified by the American Burn Association. Despite seeing the most severely injured patients from Colorado to Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, New Mexico and parts of Kansas and Nebraska, the center has a mortality rate of just 1.2%, half the national average.

Rain a good omen on your wedding day

Jamie and Troy fell in love at this time of year back in 2008. They traveled in the same circles and on Memorial Day weekend then, they kept running into each other at barbecues and parties.

Then, on one of their first dates, they went to a Rockies game.

Since then, they’ve been inseparable.

Jamie and Troy Ketchum smile as they pose for a selfie.
Jamie and Troy Ketchum approach life with remarkable optimism after a terrible car crash left Jamie with injuries over 95% of her body. Photo courtesy of Jamie and Troy Ketchum.

Jamie remembers the immediate aftermath of the accident. She rode in an ambulance to University of Colorado Hospital and vividly remembers the pain. She can’t remember big blocks of time for months after that. At times, there were terrifying hallucinations and funny ones too. She became convinced, for instance, that Santa Claus was in her room.

Meanwhile, Troy was pleading with the team to save Jamie’s life.

“She’s my soul mate,” he told them.

“I tried to stay positive,” Troy said. “But, it was very difficult. Jamie had only a 13% chance of survival and her mom had about a 35% chance.”

Troy has quit his job doing construction project management for a bank and cares for Jamie full time. Jamie used to work for an insurance company and said her former co-workers have been wonderfully supportive.

Now the couple celebrates every little success.

“The world isn’t built for somebody without legs or an arm. We figure out how to make things work for us,” Jamie said.

She said occupational therapists have been wonderful at helping her adapt.

“I realize I can’t change things. I just need to make the best of it. Every day is better when I do that.”

“We talk about the things I couldn’t do six months ago. I couldn’t feed myself. I am feeling more and more independent.”

Troy recently had some elastic bracelets made for Jamie in a rainbow of colors.

They have three words etched in them: “Survivor. Hero. Blessed.” There’s also a symbol for infinity since that’s how far their love stretches.

Jamie’s eyes fill with tears as she gazes at Troy.

“I’m very lucky,” she said, gazing at him. “You’re a keeper.”

He, in turn, says he’s blessed.

Thinking back to the day they got married, Troy remarks that rain on your wedding day is good luck.

Remarkably, even with all they’ve been through, the Ketchums consider themselves very, very lucky.

“We’re thankful that we are still here because we shouldn’t be,” said Troy. “Jamie’s dad didn’t make it, but we’re lucky to be here and alive.”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.