6-year-old survivor of fire fights for life

Chaquan Rhodes said she's still planning a trip to Chuck E. Cheese with her little sister.


Chaquan, 16, and sister Shakiera Rouse, 6, had planned a Saturday visit to the restaurant, but that's on hold as the younger girl fights for life in the intensive care unit at the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center.

Shakiera, a Dorothy Haines Elementary first-grader, has been in critical condition at MCG since a Friday night fire killed her mother, sister and a cousin.

"They say she can hear me," Chaquan said Wednesday. "I tell her every day, 'Just go ahead and get better. When you get out, we'll go wherever you want to go.' "

Chaquan said she and her family members hope that Shakiera will survive the trauma of smoke inhalation that is believed to have killed her mother, Yolanda Hankerson; a sister, Laquisha Rouse, 9; and a cousin, Zyon Nelson, 4, during a kitchen grease fire at a home on Kevin Drive.

"She doesn't look like herself right now, but I hope she hangs in there," Chaquan said. "She's hung in there this long, so I think she's going to make it."

Lt. Carlton Bradley, of the Richmond County Fire Department, said it appears the family suffered smoke inhalation after Ms. Hankerson attempted to extinguish the fire on her stove.

A child with those kinds of injuries often has a good chance for recovery, said Dr. Richard Cartie, pediatric critical care director for the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital. Though he's not treating Shakiera, he said he has treated several children for smoke inhalation.

"This type of injury is very recoverable," Dr. Cartie said. "Cleaning out the soot and carbonation from the lungs can cause damage. Our job is to keep the lungs going without much damage."

Patients are typically hospitalized for about two weeks, he said.

As family members hope for Shakiera's recovery, they are also preparing to bury three loved ones today.

Chaquan said she dreads explaining the fire to her sister once her health improves.

"I haven't really dealt with it myself," she said. "When I stay in one place, that's when it gets to me."

Services for Ms. Hankerson, Laquisha and Zyon will be at 11 a.m. today at Beulah Grove Baptist Church.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.