HOUSTON – On Feb. 24, 2011, there was smoke pouring from the home day care owned by Jessica Tata.
Seeing the smoke, Tata made a chilling call to 911 to report the fire.
“2810 Crestpark! I can't see anything! I can't even go in there and get them. They’re dying,” said Tata to the 911 dispatcher.
The day care owner, Jessica Tata was arrested, charged, and sent to prison for 80 years, after leaving a group of children alone, with a pan of grease on the stove, while she went shopping.
Four of the seven children inside the day care died.
Tiffany Dickerson had two children at Tata's day care.
Her 3-year-old son Shomari didn't make it out.
Her daughter Makayla, then 2 years old, survived, but was severely burned.
Dickerson remembers seeing her daughter that day. “I pulled back the sheet and she looked like a peeled lobster. All I saw was flesh. I was just thinking to myself, 'I don't know how they're gonna be able to save her legs.'”
Makayla was rushed to Shriner's Hospital in Galveston, and Dickerson credits the medical team there with saving Makayla's legs and placing her on a path to recovery.
“She calls me a miracle. She says I'm a miracle baby, and I'm a survivor,” Makayla said.
On the day KPRC met her, she allowed Dominique Sachse to touch the scars on her legs.
“It's like touching rubber,” Makayla said. “My leg is like a whole rubber toy.”
It's been a long 7 years for Makayla.
“So, this the back of her knee. (It) was really, really tight. But this is a really thin, very delicate area. So instead of cutting right here, they're cutting above and below, which is slowly undoing the tightness here,” Dickerson said.
Makayla has had 13 surgeries, and will need another eight as she continues to grow.
“She is the most special, beautiful, smartest girl. She makes my life better every day, just to be strong. I'm strong because she's strong,” Dickerson said.
Having a conversation with Makayla is much like talking to any other fourth-grader adjusting to the rigors of schoolwork.
“It's more difficult than third grade because you have to do more times tables and division, and you learn more stuff,” she said.
But Makayla is dealing with extraordinary challenges: She's been bullied by children who don't know her story.
“I still have to put on a good face because I have to show the bullies that they can't push me around, but they can't make me feel bad and I have to show them that they can't ruin my day,” Makayla said.
And then, there are the memories from the fire.
“It was naptime but everybody was in the fire. They were trying to escape. Me and my brother, we couldn't escape, so he just got on top of me, protecting me, and he was a really good hero," she said.
At 10 years old, Makayla is old enough to know what Tata did and the consequences of her actions. And Ma’Kayla has questions for Tata.
“Why would you leave your own class alone? How can you live with that? If you're watching this today, how can you leave someone to die?” she asked.
Makayla is quick to count her blessings and find the silver lining in the struggles she's been dealt.
“I always wondered what it would be like to be normal. Like, if my brother survived, if I was never in the fire, then I wouldn't meet, like, Shriner's Hospital or the really nice nurses and doctors,” she said.
Makayla is sharing her story to help other children who might look different or feel different.
“You have to embrace the fire part of you, because whether you like it or not, it's going to be who you are. And don't let other people stop you from believing, because you're beautiful just the way you are, in and out,” she said.
Even after all she’s endured, Makayla still has big dreams for her future. She shared a couple of them with us.
“I have one dream that I've had for very long, to be an actress. But my other dream, it was a dream that I was going to be sharing my story to the burned people," she said.
Makayla is truly spectacular, and wise beyond her years. Her dream to become an actress one day is a bit closer to happening, because she just landed a modeling contract with a very well-known local agency.