Dulce Contreras was 16 years old the first time she came to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. It was December 2001. Third degree burns covered her face and hands. The life-threatening injuries were caused by a kitchen gas leak that triggered an explosion and fire that destroyed her family’s home in Nogales, Mexico.
As a regional pediatric burn center serving the western United States and Northwestern region of Mexico, the Northern California Shriners Hospital stood ready to help. Dr. David Greenhalgh and the burn team treated Dulce for her burn injuries and guided her through the rehabilitation process. Her initial hospital stay lasted six months and entailed multiple surgeries and subsequent reconstructive surgery.
“I had so many surgeries that I lost count,” said Dulce. “For me, each surgery was an opportunity to improve my appearance and make me feel better about myself.”
Flash forward 16 years, and Dulce is back at Shriners Hospital — this time as an employee. Dulce’s job as an administrative assistant for the Facilities and Engineering Department gives her a unique perspective on what it takes to keep the hospital humming. At Shriners, Dulce says, care knows no boundaries.
“When I first came here I knew the hospital as a patient. I experienced the care and compassion and saw all the different things the hospital does for kids. Now, I see the hospital from a whole new perspective and have a deeper appreciation for all that is involved in operating our hospital,” said Dulce, who balances her professional responsibilities with those she now has as a wife, mother and community volunteer.
While Dulce’s journey has come full circle, the care she received at Shriners Hospital inspires her every step of the way. From patient, to hospital volunteer, to camp counselor, to prevention advocate and wife and mother, Dulce is determined to help others.
“I believe that the reason I was injured was so that I could help others,” said Dulce. “I try to help families understand that recovery takes time and that although it is not easy, it is important to keep trying. We can do whatever we want, and our dreams can be fulfilled.”
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California is hosting an Alumni Day brunch on October 21, 2017. Dulce is one of hundreds of former patients and staff who will be there to share their memories.