Legacy of Love and Pain

John LoMonaco is a young doctor with thick dark hair peppered with early gray. He always has a bright smile for his patient, no matter how many shifts he has strung together.

LoMonaco, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, is doing paperwork and updating patients' charts when Hudson is rushed in.

On her charred upper body, the burns start as a line across her waist, a pattern he hasn't seen before. He makes emergency incisions in the skin of her arms and chest. Her burned flesh is swelling, threatening her breathing and blood flow to one arm. The escharotomy works, and breathing and blood flow improves, but she isn't out of danger.

The next few days are critical.

As a victim of domestic violence, Hudson is given a protective alias: Alice Hill.

LoMonaco later hears his patient's gruesome story. "That explained the bizarre pattern," he says.

He has seen worse burns -- more than 90 percent of the body -- but those were caused by chemical-plant explosions.

This one is deliberate. Malicious.

"I was taken aback by the brutality," LoMonaco says. "It'll stand out in my mind forever."

Gasoline burns at 900-1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, experts say. Second-degree burns begin to form at about 130 degrees. The fuel doesn't vaporize readily but stays in contact with skin and clothes, which fed the flames like a wick and compounded Hudson's injuries.

Fortunately the skin, the body's largest organ, is also the most resilient.

The first few weeks are a critical time in Hudson's care as agonizing skin grafting is performed.

"It's like torture," LoMonaco says. "It's repeated and on schedule. Patients have nothing to look forward to."

In a skin graft, a thin layer of skin, from .008 to .01 of an inch -- about as thick as heavy notebook paper -- is scraped off a healthy part of the patient's body and transferred to the burn area after the dead tissue is removed. Doctors hope the grafts "take" and generate new skin.

Hudson will undergo several skin grafts in the next three to four months. As she heals from one, another will be right around the corner. Then another. And another.

She has large amounts of burned tissue on her back and chest. Temperature fluctuations caused by pneumonia narrow the surgeon's window of opportunity. Each extra day that burned tissue is left in place means an increased chance of infection, a burn patient's deadliest adversary.

On April 14, Hudson undergoes her first surgery: Burned tissue from her arms and wrists -- functionally the most important areas to preserve and rehabilitate -- is being replaced with skin grafts from her thighs.

A day before her second scheduled surgery -- almost three weeks after the assault -- Hudson's mind is absorbing the trauma.

"Kee ... per. ... Kee ... per," Hudson says during one of her mother's visits. She raises her arm as if she is trying to show Tate something outside her room.

"He's not up here, baby. He's not up here," Tate reassures her.

Turning to the door, Tate sees a man resembling her daughter's husband. She stares.

Same build. Similar features.

It's the janitor making his rounds.