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Sage Volkman

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This is one for the angels. Nine months ago we wrote about Sage Volkman for the first time. Her story was painful to tell; her pictures were difficult to look at. At the age of 5, this little girl from Placitas, N.Mex., had been terribly burned when her parents’ camper burst into flames. She was expected to die, but did not. Since then she has been through 22 operations, including a corneal transplant, skin grafts and facial reconstruction that has allowed her to smile again. And that is the point. Knowing all that the world has to teach of physical pain, she can still smile—and does.

The message has not been lost on our readers. Horrified at first by her suffering, then captivated by her unimaginable courage, they have written to Sage by the dozens, the hundreds and finally the thousands, uttering a kind of cry from the heart. Knowing what we do of childhood, we yearn, like the doctors and therapists who have worked with her tirelessly, to restore to Sage some innocent fragment of all she has lost. Yet we know, too, that in that flash of fire, her life was changed beyond our poor power to remedy. Her chin is repaired, her hair begins to grow back, but there is no happy ending to Sage’s story—not yet. As nerves return to life and grafted skin stretches over her growing body, she is in more pain now than at any time since her accident. Ahead lie at least 11 more years of surgery. All this would seem unendurable but for what we know of this child’s powers of endurance. Fragile but somehow unbreakable, she shows us the most distant boundaries of the human spirit and how far we must travel to reach them.