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Ekalaka child suffers severe burns in freak accident

Eben Burns
Posted at 5:57 PM, Feb 28, 2023

EKALAKA - It's a sound Casey Whitney will never forget: Her nearly two-year-old son screaming in pain after suffering severe burns on Saturday afternoon.

Casey had just boiled water for some Cup Noodles, when Eben managed to knock the Styrofoam cup off of the counter and onto himself. The incident led to an intense next 24 hours, when the family rushed to the clinic in Ekalaka before being life-flighted to the burn unit in Salt Lake City.

“He screamed and I screamed, and then my other son Eli, who’s four, said, ‘What happened? What happened?’" Casey said in a web interview. "And I didn’t know how to respond because I was freaking out."

Casey said the initial moments following were difficult to process with a lot of unanswered questions.

“Seeing how bad it was because his skin was fried," Casey said. "The layers were coming off. When it initially happened and right after, I didn’t know what the answers were and that was the hardest part of this."

Eben suffered second-degree burns to nearly 15 percent of his body. For his mother, it was difficult to watch him struggling to survive.

“I cried a lot while I was there, and I finally had to leave the room when they were working on him," Casey said. "I went and sat with my other son just because he didn’t know what was going on either."

Eben's father, Seth, was out of town at his parents' home in Miles City. Once he received the call, he raced back to Ekalaka but couldn't get back in time before the flight took off.

“I always feel like I’m the provider and the calm one, and it was hard," Seth said. "I don’t like situations that I can’t do anything about, and I was in Miles City. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t help him."

Whitney family

The family has been split up since. After spending the weekend in Utah, Casey is starting to receive more information and Eben is currently preparing for a minor procedure that will help with the skin regrowth process.

Seth is still in Ekalaka with Eli. The family said it's been difficult to be so split up during this time, but they are grateful that Eben is still alive.

"I'll speak with Eli over FaceTime, but I can tell it's hard for him to be able to see me and not be able to hug me," Casey said. "This is the longest we've ever been apart."

Eben and Eli
Eben and his older brother Eli.

Seth said he can't wait to be reunited, but knows no matter how long it takes, it will be worth it.

"I want him home, but I want him ready to come home when he needs to," Seth said. "I miss my wife and my other little boy."

Both Seth and Casey work in the Ekalaka school system, and the family has received an outpouring of support over the past few days. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $19,000 in less than two days.

"It's been overwhelming," Seth said. "I looked at that GoFundMe page and I saw names I didn't even recognize."

"It's one of those things where in the midst of tragedy, you see the most good in people," Casey said.

And as the support continues, both parents said it's a gesture from their home community that they'll never forget.

“I feel super blessed," Seth said. "At first my wife asked how we were going to pay for the life flight, and I said, 'We'll worry about it when it comes.' There are people out there taking care of us and it means a lot.”