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For Murphy's Alyssa Smith, scars are healed

Alyssa Smith, who suffered third-degree burns on her hands in a childhood accident, was once ashamed of the scarring on her hands. But now those hands, besides making baskets for Archbishop Murphy's girls hoops team, help mentor other children with burns.                                                                

Alyssa Smith , a senior on the Archbishop Murphy girls basketball team, works on a drill with her teammates at a recent practice. Smith, who had her hands severely burned in a childhood accident, helps mentor young kids with burns at a summer camp in North Bend.

By Mike Cane
Herald Writer

Life is spectacular for Alyssa Smith these days.

Smith, a senior at Archbishop Murphy High School, is a versatile starter on the talented Wildcats girls basketball team. Playing hoops has never been more fun, she said last week after taking a break from practice.

Smith's college path is set thanks to the University of Montana basketball scholarship she accepted in November. Earning a hoops scholarship was a longtime aspiration for the sturdy 6-foot forward.

"It's kind of a weird feeling now having worked so hard for that ultimate goal and having everything you've ever worked for accomplished," she said. "Now I'm working towards a state championship."

Making valuable all-around contributions -- she averaged 9.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.8 assists in her team's first five games -- Smith is part of a balanced, experienced Archbishop Murphy team that through last week was 6-0.

If there is a role Smith can't fill, Murphy head coach John Barhanovich hasn't found it. "In practice and games she has played all five positions. We ask her to bring the ball up. We'll ask her to post up," Barhanovich said.

How about the way Smith, who lives in Monroe, interacts with teammates? In that area she's also a star, getting along with others whether they are fellow starters or a sophomore substitute, said Barhanovich.

"She's a very considerate person," he said, "as far as doing things with the team to make sure everyone feels like a part of the team."

Smith's knack for comforting others partly stems from a tragic childhood accident that changed her perspective on life. The scars on her hands healed long ago, but they are a permanent reminder.

Smith was 2 years old when it happened. She was at a Marysville day care. Although Smith doesn't remember much of it, her dad certainly does. He pauses before recounting the painful details.

"Sometimes it's easy to talk about, sometimes it's hard," Silas Smith said. "But we're OK because Alyssa is so OK."

That day in Marysville 2-year-old Alyssa Smith stepped onto a bathroom stool to wash her hands. She turned on the hot water, slipped forward and dunked her hands. The family later learned the hot water tank was incorrectly set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Alyssa suffered third-degree burns on her hands, Smith's dad said.

Alyssa Smith spent a month at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where doctors performed skin grafts on her hands. Later she dealt with the scars in grade school, worrying what others might think.

"I would cover it up with my sleeves or I wouldn't wear rings or nail polish because I didn't want to bring attention to them," said Smith.

A turning point for Smith came when she was 7 and attended a summer camp for burn survivors. Sponsored by the Northwest Burn Foundation and based in North Bend, the weeklong camp changed Smith. It was an eye-opener, she said, to meet kids and young adults whose burns were much worse than hers. Despite their condition, the campers were happy and went on with their lives.

Initially Silas Smith wasn't sure the camp would be good for his daughter. He felt she had adjusted after the accident and was a "confident, healthy, smart little girl," not a victim. A neighbor -- a firefighter who volunteered at the camp -- ultimately convinced the Smiths to send Alyssa.

She attended the camp for 10 consecutive summers, eventually becoming not just a participant but also a mentor to younger campers.

"I think it's definitely helped me as a person on how I view other people and how you view yourself," said Alyssa Smith. "It's helped me realize that looks isn't everything, because in high school I think that a lot of people think that it is."

"It was the best thing we ever did," Silas Smith said of his and his wife's decision to send Alyssa to the camp. "It's kind of shaped and molded the compassion in her and why she wants to work in a burn unit."

Silas Smith recalled driving to North Bend to visit Alyssa Smith during her first trip to the camp. When he arrived the campers were having a dance. He spotted 7-year-old Alyssa slow-dancing with a boy whose face was badly disfigured from burns.

"She was talking to him eye to eye. You could see he was happy," Silas Smith said.

Although she missed the camp this past summer because of a hectic select-team schedule that helped her earn the University of Montana basketball scholarship, Alyssa Smith plans to return as a counselor-in-training. One day she'd like to be a physical therapist in a hospital burn unit.

"It's always been a part of who she is," Silas Smith said.

Beyond her scarred hands, the accident that altered Alyssa Smith's life changed her in a profoundly positive way, one that will continue to benefit others.

Writer Mike Cane: [email protected]. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at



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