Mom of teen set on fire: Son focused on recovery

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2009 12:35 PM

In the days after 15-year-old Michael Brewer was set on fire by a group of teens, his mother, Valerie Brewer, sat at his hospital bedside and worried.

"How are we going to get through this?" she recalls wondering. She was a switchboard operator. Her husband had been laid off as a maintenance man two months prior. The family didn't have health insurance.

Never mind the anger that welled up after police said five of Michael's middle school classmates doused him with rubbing alcohol last month and set him ablaze, causing burns over 65 percent of his body. Police said the attack in a South Florida apartment complex happened a day after Michael called police when some of the other boys tried to steal his father's bike. Michael may also have owed one of the boys money for a video game.

Two days after the attack, Valerie Brewer said she "got down on her hands and knees and gave her anger to God."

Then, she said, miracles happened. People in South Florida held fundraisers for her family. Cards and letters of support poured in from around the world. Retired Miami Heat basketball player Alonzo Mourning visited recently, and rocker Ozzy Osbourne heard about Michael and sent him some CDs.

"It has just been overwhelming," said Brewer, who thanked supporters during media interviews Wednesday alongside her husband, Michael Brewer Sr. "It really has renewed my faith in mankind."

Michael is doing better. Doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital initially predicted he would need to stay in the intensive care unit for five months. Instead, he was moved to a burn unit after five weeks. He is talking and taking tentative steps _ and playing Tony Hawk video games and watching "ICarly," one of his favorite TV shows.

"He suffered an extremely life-changing burn," said Dr. Carl Schulman. "But we're happy with his progress. He's doing as well as we can possibly expect."

Michael is scheduled to undergo his first skin graft on the backs of his legs next week. But his recovery is not all smooth. He is still sedated and in intense pain, said his mother, especially when a nurse changes his dressings every day and gently washes his wounds.

Michael calls it his "torture time."

"He screams," she said. "But he cranks up Ozzy on the boom box and focuses on the music."

Michael doesn't dwell on the Oct. 12 attack.

"He's my hero," she said. "The fact that he can get through this on a daily basis without showing any anger is just incredible to me."

Three of the five teens accused in the attack were charged earlier this month as adults. Two others were released without charges.

Valerie Brewer said she doesn't have time to pay attention to the court case.

"I don't watch the news," she said. "I'm living this nightmare. I don't watch it on TV."

She sleeps at Michael's bedside overnight and rests at the nearby Ronald McDonald House during the day. When she or her husband are feeling down, she said, they read through a stack of cards from well-wishers. Michael likes hearing them read aloud, too.

On Thanksgiving, Valerie will stick to her routine.

She and her husband will be at Michael's bedside, while her other daughter _ Michael's older sister _ will be at their home in Deerfield Beach. Folks in the community there will bring dinner to her daughter, and Brewer plans to call so everyone can say grace and give thanks together, over the telephone.