VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Chloe Garcia is carrying out a family tradition picking out the Halloween pumpkin at Hunt Club Farm in Virginia Beach.
Dressed in their costumes, she and her two brothers had a blast running around the pumpkin patch ahead of trick-or-treating. But it’s a holiday that also carries with it painful memories of the past.
One year ago, a few days before Halloween, she and her family were lighting the Halloween pumpkin and it blew up in her face, disfiguring the preschooler.
Fire investigators say while the mother's boyfriend was lighting up the pumpkin with the lighter, some of the fumes were building up inside of the pumpkin and because the face was not carved out yet, there was no room for the fumes to escape when the man lit it. This caused a flash fire.
But Garcia says her boyfriend carves pumpkins every year, and she believes the fire started because the lighter they used was leaking.
Chloe suffered first and second degree burns on her face, neck and hands. She was in intensive care at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters for days - and that was just the start of the struggle for her and her family.
"Just seeing how her skin looked. She had 12 surgeries,” said mom Melanie.
In February, News 3 spoke with Melanie at the Shriner's Burn Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio and she shared her daughter's painful recovery.
The best chance for her to heal the deep scars on her face was to get a specially made plastic mask from the Shriner's Hospital. The mask helps keep the scars from pulling on her face as she grows, keeping it from becoming more misshapen.
News 3's Beverly Kidd went along with the family as Chloe was fitted with her mask and given an American Girl doll outfitted to look just like her.
That was eight months ago, and this is the first Halloween since the accident.
News 3 caught up with Chloe and her family and asked Chloe to tell how she had been doing since they last met.
Like you’d expect of most 5-year-olds, she was more interested in chasing the animals at Hunt Club Farm than doing a TV interview, chasing a huge peacock around the dusty farm along with her brothers.
“Right now she’s currently not wearing her mask. She's in the next phase and in December they'll be cutting her lip, doing a skin graft, waiting about a week and a half and then getting a new half mask,” her mom said.
Her first day of kindergarten this year was tough, according to Melanie.
"There were a couple of kids that said, 'What happened? Why is her lip like that? Why does her face look like that?' And at that point I kind of lost it.”
But all of that is in the past.
As mom and grandma watched Chloe play among the pumpkins, something that should bring up scary memories, they realize instead this holiday is about making new memories.
Chloe is a candy princess for Halloween this year and she runs around the farm like the rest of the kids there.
After all that has happened, the painful time spent in the hospital, the stares she gets from strangers and the uncomfortable mask that helps her heal, Chloe seems happier than ever.
Melanie said, “I think with this accident it's changed her, it’s made her grow more, and she’s just so happy.”
“Before the accident, she was more quiet, now she’s a little chatterbox," Melanie said.
A spirited little chatterbox who’s quickly overcoming a life-altering accident.
So she's really not afraid of pumpkins, just the lighting?
Melanie explained that Chloe was afraid of pumpkins at first until she understood that the actual pumpkin was not the enemy.
After only a year, it seems Chloe is truly not afraid of the very thing that seems to be the source of her pain and struggle.
What a remarkable little girl. We can't wait to see what the future brings.