MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A woman whose estranged husband was arrested for dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire is talking about the horrific ordeal for the very first time.
“I couldn’t imagine this would happen because we had a good relationship, but the love was over,” Heilyn Hernandez told CBS4 News.
Her life changed in September 2016. Hernandez was arriving for work at Nature’s Sleep in Plantation when she says she spotted her estranged husband.
“He came running fast towards me, so I turned on the car and I tried to get back and get out of there,” explained Hernandez.
Surveillance video from Nature’s Sleep shows she couldn’t get away. The video shows a man cornering her, like prey.
“He came by my side, opened the door, and….”
Hernandez doesn’t finish the sentence. She shakes her head side to side when asked if she could imagine what happened next, saying, “It was so fast.”
Hernandez was doused in gasoline and set on fire. She says a worker at the nearby MD Now Urgent Care saw what happened and came to her rescue, telling her to drop and roll, than walking her to the urgent care center. She explains while fire consumed her body, her family consumed her thoughts.
“I was just thinking about my daughter and my mom ’cause they were at home, and I asked the police to take care of them.”
Hernandez was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami where doctors say her life was on the line. Dr. Carl Schulman treated Hernandez when she came in.
“She was close to death many times. She was with us for a long time and it was probably eight weeks before she was able to crack a smile. When she was able to crack a smile and when she was able to reunite with her daughter, that’s when the real healing begins,” said Dr. Schulman.
It was months before Hernandez would carry her young daughter again. That desire to be a mom is what she says motivated her to not give up.
“I want my life back. I want to do everything I was doing before. I have my daughter and I have to be there for her, and not just ‘be there,’ be there!”
Hernandez let CBS4 News observe her occupational therapy session at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami.
She credits the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center with her speedy recovery. She says people like occupational therapist Angel Alvarez make all the difference.
“I want people to know the good job everybody is doing here in the burn center,” Hernandez said. “I had a lot of pain. I suffered for three months, but there was many people here, kind people.”
Kindness goes a long way when you are in painful therapy for five months. She still has another two to go and then more procedures.
“She’ll need some surgical releases in the fingers because she had tendon damage – and that’s why we’re casting the fingers individually because she can close them, but she can’t open her fingers,” said Alvarez.
For now, the focus is on easing the tension in skin grafts. They have thickened, creating what are known as cords.
“The cord is this right here, and it runs into the wrist and even to the finger,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez explained they’re working on stretching the new skin that covers more than 40 percent of her body.
The grafts taken from her legs replace the skin consumed by flames on her arms, chest and back. They are tense. If not properly cared for, she won’t be able to stretch her arms.
And Hernandez’s hair, once long, is now short and choppy, cut off after also catching fire.
But when she first arrived at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the focus was keeping her alive.
“She had immediate needs for fluid resuscitation. She had immediate needs to protect her airway,” Schulman said.
It’s critical care that requires immediate attention.
To make matters worse, “she became extremely sick. The burn injury produces a massive inflammatory response of the body that actually affects all the organs, not just the skin – the heart, the lungs, the liver, the kidney – and she was very close to death,” said Schulman.
She’s passed that now and working on mobility. While the doctor said physical scars will always remain. Hernandez said her spirit has been healed with kindness.
“I cannot imagine if at that moment with my pain if the people is not kind with you, I can’t imagine how worse it could be,” said Hernandez.
That kindness also came from her parents. Hernandez said they help her with the daily home exercises required as part of therapy.
She has about two more months of occupational therapy, but at least another year of doctors’ visits and perhaps even additional surgeries. Doctors say her prognosis is good.
As for her estranged husband, Noel Garcia De Armas faces attempted murder and other charges. When asked if she has any words for him, she replied, “No, I left that in God’s hands.”