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Child badly burned in accident finds new path, new family

"He perseveres and has the best attitude," Matt said.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WTHR) — When you spend time around Christian Doss, you will hear singing.

"Yes, he loves to sing," said Erica Doss. "He has a new song every week that he plays on repeat. Any song that he sings, he's passionate about and it really just shows his heart."

Joy flows easily from this 11-year-old boy. But the soundtrack of his life was nearly silenced.

"I remember everything," Christian said.

Christian recovering in the hospital after being burned in a bonfire accident. (Doss family)

It was Sept. 2016, children were playing near a bonfire outside a home in Lafayette.

"I got a gasoline tank and I tried to pour it on there, but I couldn't hold the gasoline tank and it exploded," Christian said.

Those who saw the boy will never forget it.

"It was horrific. His whole body, his hair, his face, everything was engulfed. And his skin was just coming off," said Tiea Lee, a witness to the incident.

"He was burned on 95 percent of his body," Erica said. "My god, he's been through more than anyone that I know."

Two years after the backyard accident, Christian was put in foster care after it was determined his biological mother could not care for her son. The boy faced an uncertain future and a long recovery.

"Initially, he couldn't walk. Just walking a couple of steps was very hard," said Physical Therapist Karen Robertson. "We had a frame that we had him in that would help him to walk. And, now he can run unlimited distance."

Robertson said Christian's progress is unbelievable.

"His walking is so much improved. I'm fine tuning it. But he can do so much more. He couldn't have picked up anything from the floor initially or tied his shoes or any of those things because of how tight his skin was and all the trauma he had been through," Robertson said.

Erica was his speech therapist at Riley Hospital for Children.

"We were working on chewing, eating because he was intubated for a long time and he also had a tracheostomy. So we were working on using the speaking valve so he could talk. He was still my patient when he went to rehab too," Erica said.

“It really scared me when I heard he didn't have anyone to go home with.”

She connected with her young patient.

"He's just an amazing kid. I always looked forward to working with him. He had a good sense of humor," Erica said.

But Erica worried about Christian's future.

"It really scared me when I heard he didn't have anyone to go home with," she said. "There wasn't a foster family available. So there were a lot of sleepless nights."

Erica and her fiancé, Matt, decided they wanted to adopt Christian.

"We talked with my mom who initially took him home, that if, for any reason, if his family could not take him back that we would go ahead and adopt him. We didn't want him going back to the foster care system or ending up in a residential place," Erica said.

Christian and his mom Erica. (Doss family)

"My wife was on board, and I met him and it was instant connection," said Matt Doss. "He's a hoot. He's like the wittiest kid ever and that was at eight."

After dozens of surgeries and procedures, Christian would go home from the hospital.

"It was amazing how many people came to see him leave, which doesn't always happen. It was the most people since I've been working on the rehab unit that many people came," Erica said.

But his rehabilitation continues three years after the accident. Robertson works with Christian on a variety of exercises at Riley Hospital for Children.

"As kids grow that have a burn injury, their skin doesn't necessarily grow with them," Robertson said. "The goal is to help those scars be as soft and pliable as they can be and flat, so as he grows, that skin has the capacity to stretch and grow with him."

"He perseveres and has the best attitude," Matt said.

Wedding picture with Christian. (Provided by Doss family)

The legal process to adopt a child takes a long time. Extended family helped out until Erica and Matt got married.

"My mom and my stepdad have done so much for him. When he first came home from the hospital, he was in a wheelchair and had a tracheostomy. He was going to therapy four days a week. He had numerous doctor appointments," Erica said. "With Matt and I working fulltime, we couldn't do it. They really stepped up. They didn't even know him. They just fell in love with him. Even today, they help out with therapy and picking him up from school and doctors appointments. It's amazing what they do."

As Christian was bonding with the Doss's, he would become a big brother.

"He's so sweet with Teagan," Erica said. "I can always count on him to hold her. He reads to her and carries her around. He's just amazing."

Christian and his baby sister. (Doss family)

Then finally, the big day arrives. The 5th grader got dressed up and gave flowers to the people who have helped create a new family. Then, the judge made the adoption official.

Christian is now a Doss.

"It was a relief. It was pretty emotional. It was exciting. It's finally official. It's been a long time," Erica said. "(Christian) was cracking jokes throughout the whole thing. He was talking to the judge and just being a goofball. That made me happy that he was comfortable."

"My highlight was the judge saying that when my parents said that I have to brush my teeth I have to brush my teeth which I don't think is right because what if I don't want to brush my teeth," Christian said.

"That's a battle every night and every morning. But that's an 11-year-old boy," Erica said.

"I grew up wondering what it would be like to be a parent and you don't really know until it actually happens. I told him the moment I met him, it was a feeling unlike any other," Matt said.

The family created a sign that said "after 222 days in the hospital, 1001 days sharing their hearts and home, today I share their last name."

Christian's adoption day. (Doss family)

"It's been official in our eyes a long time. But the finality of that piece, knowing there's nothing in the way was a huge relief," Matt said.

Christian knows his future.

"I'd like to be a plastic surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children so I can help other people that are going through what I'm going through," Christian said. "I can tell them, I did go through it. They can understand that it does get better if they knew someone who went through it."

"The fact that he wants to be a plastic surgeon and give back tells me the type of kid he is," Matt said.

Christian will need more therapy as he grows up.

"He's always challenging himself and he wants to do everything where with some kids, the pain limits them and they can't get past that. And, that's a really hard journey," Robertson said. "Christian has been able to continually push himself farther and farther."

Christian and his father Matt. (Doss family)

His father admires how his son approaches each session.

"Seeing his resilience with the therapy, going to therapy with him and seeing him getting frustrated, but power through it," Matt said.

Christian said he is motivated to succeed in therapy.

"I feel like I can do more and I can do better. So I want to push myself to that," Christian said.

Christian will need more surgeries until he is full grown.

"He's been through 54 procedures or surgeries, many skin grafts, many laser treatments to help his skin. We're very blessed to have the doctors, the nurses and therapists he's had," Erica said. "They've been very dedicated to him. They've all helped us all get through." The family also praised the Hoosier Burn Camp staff.

Now Christian will officially move forward in life as a "Doss" thanks to a family who chose to look beyond the scars.

“You might see the scars at first, but it's not about his scars. It's his personality.”

"You might see the scars at first, but it's not about his scars," Erica said. "It's his personality. His light shines through. Once you get to know him, it's all about what's on the inside. I look at it as we're blessed to have him in our lives. He's really changed us for the better."

The Doss family wants Christian to maintain relationships with his 11 siblings, many of whom still live in Lafayette.

"They're all wonderful," Erica said. "We've been staying in contact with them. We try to go up every one to two months and see them. They're our family too."