For nearly 50 years, Yardley resident and New Jersey clinical psychologist Dr. Lise Deguire avoided telling her story. Filled with neglectful parents, multiple suicides and a fire at the age of 4 that left her with third-degree burns on two-thirds of her body, Deguire’s journey was not easy in the slightest.
But still, through all of the emotional and physical pain (including over 40 reconstructive surgeries), Deguire found strength and resilience. The wife and mother of two daughters now leads a life of happiness, one which many strive to achieve.
According to Deguire, it was because of her resiliency and ability to envision a light at the end of the tunnel that she found a happy ending. She never lost hope, and is inspiring people – especially during the seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic – to do the same in her debut book Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor.
“I would have never known that this book would be released into this year. When I started writing this, it was three years ago and 2020 was not on anybody’s minds. There are so many parallels between what I have gone through and what a lot of us are going through now in terms of being isolated, alone and sick,” Deguire told The Times. “I think this year out of any year, people need to feel hope and inspiration that life can get better.”
The creation of Flashback Girl has been decades in the making because, despite everything, Deguire didn’t want to cause her parents any pain.
“I could tell my story now because both of my parents have passed away. They were gifted, wonderful and inspiring people, but they were not able to be parents the way a child needs parents,” she explained, adding that she visited and helped them until the very end. “Three weeks after my mother died, I sat down and started to write, and I basically wrote for a year straight. I was obsessed. A year later, I had a book that’s almost 300 pages long because I had held my story in for half a century. So, the release of that has been powerful.”
Flashback Girl reflects on when Deguire was abandoned in a fire, which she said was partly due to her parents’ negligence.
“My parents were neglectful. They didn’t mean to be but they were,” she said. “The fire burned away my lower lip, my chin, my neck. It left my head sort of fused to my chest, and my upper arms fused to my torso. Reconstructing that, and then skin grafting took somewhere between 40 and 50 operations. I say ‘somewhere’ because my family stopped counting.”
Most of Deguire’s childhood was spent traveling back and forth to a hospital in Massachusetts, and enduring countless nights by herself. Her parents, who lived in New Jersey, could visit only on weekends.
“I just did these things alone, and it was incredibly painful because they didn’t believe in pain relief for children at that time, which is insane,” Deguire said. “I still have operations to this day. Burn recovery from the kind of burn that I have is a lifelong thing. And that’s just the physical part. The emotional and the social parts are also incredibly difficult. There are still people who stare, especially little kids.”
In addition to the fire, Deguire experienced the trauma of four family suicides, including her older brother who took his own life at the age of 19. Deguire was 14. This, she said, prompted her eventual career path into psychology.
“I cannot tell you how striking it is that I am the one who survived. I was hideously disfigured when I was a kid, bullied, neglected. I was alone in the hospital for many months at a time. And my brother was this incredibly gifted genius,” she said. “The fact that I made it and he didn’t has always made me want to understand how to help people, and how we can help people survive and thrive. Certainly going through so much trauma at a young age, I think, deepened me, and definitely deepened my capacity for empathy and care.”
Each chapter in Flashback Girl includes a brief lesson at the end, which Deguire said is her little gift to readers.
“There’s lessons about friendship and the value of it, finding love, surviving medical trauma,” said Deguire. “The lesson kind of pulls back from the story. It’s my offering to the reader of, ‘Think about this. Think about this for you.’ ”
Deguire stressed that the themes in Flashback Girl are applicable to anyone going through a tough time. Whether someone has experienced physical trauma or is battling depression because of the pandemic, she wants them to know that it can – and will – get better. They just have to believe.
“My hope in writing this book is this sense of, you, too, can be the most unfortunate person you know. You, too, can be in the midst of terrible tragedy, and it doesn’t mean your life is going to turn out badly. Mine turned out great, but it took a long time. I had to really work at it and I got a lot of help,” Deguire said. “That’s the point of this book. Even terrible tragedies can be overcome with love, hope and a lot of work.”
Flashback Girl is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at Yardley’s Commonplace Reader. Visit lisedeguire.com for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org