The neighborhood boy came running from the storage room, and Mike Babin knew something was terribly wrong. Parents sense these things. They just know.
He was standing there engulfed in flames, the slight and delicate frame of a 3-year-old body burning away as a handful of paper might when held to fire.
"They told us he wouldn’t live," Babin says now. "They told us he wouldn’t be able to function, that society wouldn’t accept him. Well, we wouldn’t accept that.
"We heard a totally different story once we got to the Shriners Hospital. They gave us hope. They told us he would and could come back from it.
"And he did."
The annual PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas again made its way to TPC Summerlin this past week, where a champion will be crowned today and pop star Justin Timberlake will play the role of affable host.
It’s not the big picture of what this event means.
It hasn’t been since the minute Shriners Hospitals became involved.
There isn’t enough space in a newspaper, not enough airtime on television, not enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe how much those 22 hospitals have done for children since 1922.
Mike and Linda Babin know. They lived it.
The couple last week named Shriners Hospitals as owner and beneficiary of a $1.8 million life insurance policy collectable upon their deaths, their form of gratitude for the care and love and treatment their son was shown in the most horrific of times.
Michael Babin was burned on more than 85 percent of his body, the nightmare result of a gasoline can being knocked over near a water heater as two small children played nearby. There was a small explosion.
The neighborhood boy escaped; Michael didn’t.
That was in October 1971, and for the next 13 years, he would undergo more than 30 reconstructive surgeries, traveling some four hours each way from his home in Baton Rouge, La., to a Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas.
Sometimes, he would spend months there mending, his mother by his side every second and his father at home working and watching over a younger son, Chad.
"When Michael got to be 16," Linda remembers, "he said, ‘Mama, that’s it. I’m done. I’m not having any more surgeries. I’m fine with the way I look, and if people don’t like it, that’s their problem.’ "
Their story tears at your heart, memories of Michael as an adult asking his parents why they never encouraged him to date in high school and his parents answering that they didn’t want him to get hurt, that others might not see the gifts and beauty they did in him.
Michael grew into a man and bought into his father’s wholesale distributor business and owned a home in Baton Rouge. In 1999, shortly following a Louisiana State-Mississippi football game he attended earlier in the day, he was killed at age 30 in an automobile accident. He left the house open and the television on. Most think he had run out for a quick bite to eat at Burger King.
Chad spent his life defending his older brother against the cruelty of others as they stared upon all the scars. He took and gave quite a few beatings protecting Michael and was lost upon his death, lost in every sense of the word. Chad overdosed on his 32nd birthday in 2003. Both sons were gone.
You can’t survive such loss without faith stronger than an immovable oak, and the Babins to this day have drawn on theirs.
Mike: "We did all we could for them, but the Lord just had other ideas we don’t know why."
Linda: "I think I might ask when I get up there."
Mike Babin thinks the insurance policy could be worth more than $2 million one day, a gesture born from the appreciation one family feels for a health care system like no other, dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing free care in the areas of burns, orthopedics, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate.
More than 500 children with Las Vegas ties today are being treated at hospitals under the Shriners umbrella. There are stories such as Sasha Murray, the once orphan in Ukraine adopted in 2003 by Dan and Mary, a child with clubbed hands, only four fingers on his right hand, hips not formed correctly and one kidney. Today and countless surgeries later, Sasha works in the driving and chipping ranges during the tournament here.
There is Gianni Bohorquez, a 12-year-old boy who lit a match in his bedroom at age 5, passed out and spent 39 days in a coma, burned across his face and hands and arms and torso. He has had two surgeries, and many more are likely.
And, finally, there is little Alissa Perkins.
She was born in July 2009 with fibular hemimelia, a deformity of the outer bone and ankle.
Her parents, Tara and Mark, sought a second opinion on lengthening her leg or amputating it and weren’t sure how best to make contact with the Shriners. So they brought Alissa to a golf clinic during tournament week last year and there met Katie Walker, the former Shriners patient and college golfer with a prosthetic leg. A relationship was born.
Alissa had her amputation in April, received her first prosthesis in July before her first birthday and was walking by August.
This is what the PGA Tour stop here has become, so much more than a golf tournament, it’s almost indescribable.
A champion will be crowned later today, and a pop star again will play the role of affable host. That’s all well and good. It’s all window dressing.
The real story here, the reason this golf tournament is so important, begins with all those red fez hats and what they represent.
"I’ll never forget what they did for our son," Mike Babin said. "They made his life as normal as possible."
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM.