Sophomore journeys from burns to beginnings

November 14, 2014

All she felt was blistering heat.

“I thought I was going to die,” sophomore Busi Crosby said.

Nine years ago, six-year-old Crosby and her siblings huddled around a fire to shield themselves from the piercing Swaziland air. As she turned around to warm herself, her long dress spun into the fire. One of her siblings ran to get water while the other searched for their parents, but they were too late. The flames engulfed Crosby, resulting in crippling burns.



Crosby journeyed to a government hospital in Mbabane, where she stayed in the children’s ward for about 13 months. The burns fused Crosby’s skin together, making movement difficult.

Nurses rarely changed Crosby’s bandages because of scarce hospital resources. They were too busy tending to other patients to properly address her needs. Because of these setbacks, at least three weeks went by before she was able to maneuver the hospital.

“I knew I would be in pain staying in bed for the whole day doing nothing,” Crosby said. “I didn’t want to do that.”

To fill her time at the hospital, Crosby’s parents saw her every three or four days. Not long into her stay, however, Crosby saw her parents less and less. The costly trip from her parents’ rural home made visits infrequent.  Eventually, their visits stopped completely.

“I thought that since they weren’t visiting me,” Crosby said, “they thought, ‘Oh, because she is burned, we can’t care about her . . . and we can’t love somebody like that.’”



Crosby met Claud and Mary Crosby in June of 2005 about six months after arriving at the hospital. They were missionaries in Swaziland volunteering in several hospitals, including Busi’s.

“[We spent] time with patients in the adult ward and children’s ward,” Mary said. “It was in the children’s ward where we met both Busi and our baby daughter, Nondu.”

Mary says she “was moved with compassion” when she met Busi.

“I first saw her walking around all bended down, as her burned skin was attached from lower stomach to top thighs,” she said.

During their time at the hospital, Claud and Mary discovered the nurses kept a secret from Busi.

“We learned that her parents had died while she was still in the hospital, and relatives didn’t take the responsibility to take care of her,” Mary said.

Claud was “infuriated” with the hospital for not telling Busi the truth.

“The nurses [were] leaving her with this false hope, not telling her her mom and dad had passed away,” he said. “You can’t leave a child sitting waiting for them to come.”

Claud broke the news to Busi because none of the nurses were willing to. He doesn’t remember how he told her, only that he waited for a day that he felt was right.

“It was even worse having to hear it from a stranger,” Busi said. “Imagine having a stranger telling you your parents are dead. That doesn’t go very well.”

After understanding Busi’s situation, Claud and Mary wanted to help her with her inevitable surgeries. After finding surgeons in South Africa, Kenya and the United States, they discovered that Crosby couldn’t leave the country without travel documents and a passport.

“I kept hitting red tape laws. It was incredibly frustrating,” Claud said. “It [seemed] like the laws [were] preventing her from having a life.”

In 2006, a court magistrate told Claud and Mary that Busi’s surgery would be easiest if they adopted her.

“We became Busi’s legal guardians within a day of paperwork and meeting a judge,” said Mary. “It was a beautiful miracle.”

Within a few weeks, Busi was off to South Africa for her first surgery. Mary remembers Busi taking the surgery “like a charm.”

“She could stand up straight for the first time in over a year,” Mary said. “She was already sitting up and walking around . . . a few days later.”

When Busi became part of the family, she was apprehensive but grateful.

“I was excited because, for a year and a half, I didn’t have a family that would come visit me at the hospital,” she said. “I was excited to know that there were people that actually cared about me.”



Busi’s new family moved around several times, staying a maximum of a year in one place. In any area, Busi didn’t encounter much scrutiny regarding her burns.

“[People] see [the burns] and ask questions, but that’s about as far as it goes,” Crosby said, “and if they do make fun of me, then I really don’t pay attention to them.”

Busi’s experience with serious burns is not uncommon. During the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on survivor Kim Phuc’s town when she was nine. Her burns were severe. Unlike Busi, Phuc’s outlook was more grim.

“I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal,” Phuc said in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Crosby wears the official JROTC uniform, or Dress Blues. These are much preferred, she said, to the green camouflage “pickle suits” of last year. JROTC is a huge influence on her plans for the future. “I wasn’t exactly planning on going into the military, but now that I know so much about what the military actually does, I am looking forward toward the marines,” she said.

Busi adopts a less hostile attitude toward other people.

“Sometimes I am jealous of others because their bodies are perfect,” she said. “I remind myself that not everyone has to look the same way. Even though I look different from everybody else, I am unique in my own way.”

Her Christian faith also helps her feel more positive about herself. The relationship Busi cultivates with God helps ease her worries and pains.

“On the days that I don’t feel confident about myself or the way I look, I know that God made it happen because He has specific plans for me,” she said. “Even though I am not confident, He still loves me for who I am.”

Busi’s burns affect her on more than a physical level. Emotionally, some days are more tiring than others.

“There are days where I wish I hadn’t gotten burned, but then, if I hadn’t gotten burned, I wouldn’t have met the people I know today,” Busi said.

Because of her burns, Phuc worried she would never “have [a] normal life like everyone else.”

“I never thought in the future [a] boy [could] love me and marry me,” Phuc said in the Globe interview.

When Busi thinks about a future spouse, she isn’t focused on how they would receive her burns. For her, the focus lies in attributes that are not purely physical.

“If they truly loved me, they would love me for who I am,” she said. “Burns wouldn’t be something that would stop them from loving me.”



Claud finds Busi remarkably strong. He remembers her lack of complaints even when times were tough. To Claud, “what Busi [has] endured is unbelievable.”

“I have watched her successfully go through these challenges that I think would crush so many people,” he said, “and she just manages to stay positive.”

Claud and Mary both want to continue seeing Busi overcome challenges, but that’s not all that is important.

“The most important thing for me is that she would choose to follow Jesus and his calling on her life,” Claud said. “There is no greater joy for me as a father, or for Mary as a mother, than to know our kids would choose one day to live a life that honors God.”

Claud and Mary try to find the best ways to help this happen. They don’t know what Busi will do in her life, but they want to help her find out what it might be.

“Mary and I have to create this space for her to find her destiny,” said Claud, “and just support her in whatever it is she feels most passionate about.”

Busi hopes to pursue these interests now that her tentative final surgery is complete.

“I am hoping that it’s the last surgery, but of course, you can never know,” she said.

Far away from Swaziland in body and in mind, Busi’s life is different from that life-changing day nine years ago. Her positivity and the support of her family will ease her recovery, no matter where it goes.


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Sophomore journeys from burns to beginnings