Kimberly D. Briggs was already struggling to make ends meet.
Briggs, 38, a Buffalo single mother of three, used food stamps to feed her children, but money was still tight.
She was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from her two jobs about six months ago, so she could care for her 11-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Then, last week, a natural gas explosion at their home on Warring Avenue left her critically injured.
She suffered serious burns to her arms, face, back and hands, yet she somehow found the strength to rescue her three children from their collapsing home following the explosion.
Doctors say she is expected to survive her injuries, but she and her family are now facing an uphill battle.
They lost all their belongings in the explosion.
In a matter of seconds, all their clothes, food, furniture and everything they owned were gone.
"She's still heavily sedated. I hope she comes out of all this," said Glendia Rose, the paternal aunt of the three children.
"She doesn't like to bother anyone for help," Rose said. "She always made sure her children had a roof over their heads and food on the table. . . . This time she's going to need all the help she can get."
The Buffalo family is one of thousands who will be helped by The News Neediest Fund, an annual holiday drive that assists needy families with food and gifts.
The Red Cross gave the family of four $250 to help them get on their feet.
A local radio station, WUFO-1080 AM, helped raise more than $300 worth of gift certificates to help the family rebuild their lives.
Thursday, Briggs remained in critical condition in Erie County Medical Center's burn unit. She developed pneumonia in her right lung, was placed on antibiotics and is in a medically induced coma.
Her youngest child, Dino Rose, who has cerebral palsy, is now being cared for full time by Glendia Rose.
Her other two children, DeShana Rose, 14, and Deja' Rose, 17, are living between their aunt's home and their father's home.
Deja' Rose is five months pregnant with her first child, a girl, who is due in March.
All the children are trying to cope with so much for their young age.
They say they are fearful of the explosion that rocked their home. They are worried sick about their mom recovering. And they are hoping that life will become normal again.
During an interview with The Buffalo News this week, the sisters said very little, but their eyes told their story of heartache.
"I feel helpless. I feel depressed," said Deja'.
"I'm still in shock," said DeShana. "I really can't sleep at night. I have a lot of stress worrying about, is my mom OK?"
The two sisters, both Bennett High School students, are sitting at their aunt's dining room table surrounded by family members. The sisters appeared to be in a daze, staring into the distance as they spoke.
Their brother, Dino, attends a school for children with disabilities. And when the wheelchair-accessible bus drops him home from school in the afternoons, he needs an adult to be there to pick him up.
Briggs worked two jobs, as a cafeteria worker at School 31 and a school bus aide, but was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence so she would be there to pick her son up from the bus, family members said.
"It was a struggle for her," said Glendia. "She couldn't go back to work because she didn't have a baby sitter and it's hard trying to find a baby sitter for a disabled child."
Fire investigators believe Briggs was lighting the pilot of a hot water tank about 12:20 a.m. when the explosion occurred. The blast knocked three walls off the foundation, started a fire and sent the family running for safety.
The 1 1/2 -story home was destroyed, along with all their belongings.
"It's an extraordinary story," said Glendia. "[Briggs'] hands were on fire but through all that, she snatched all of her kids out of there, and hopped a fence. Even in her burnt-up situation, she wanted to make sure her kids were OK."
The three children escaped without injury -- thanks to their mother.
"She's an excellent mother," said Briggs' mother, Brenda J. Jones. "She's very loving, nurturing and very good with my grandson. Taking care of a handicapped child is not easy."
The News Neediest Fund
>How to apply for gifts:
Applications will be accepted until Dec. 14. For application sites, hours of operation and eligibility requirements, call Central Referral Service at 851-5555, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Cash donations to purchase 12,000 holiday dinners and other perishable items. New, unwrapped toys for very young children.
New, unwrapped gifts for 8- to 12-yearolds such as books, electronic games, board games, crafts, gift cards, cosmetics and athletic equipment.
>Where to give:
Drop-off sites for unwrapped toys include:
*The Buffalo News lobby, Washington and Scott streets; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
*All Wegmans stores in Erie and Niagara counties; 24 hours daily
*Hunt Real Estate, 4363 Main St., Amherst; 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
*Summit Park Mall Customer Service Desk, 6929 Williams Road, Wheatfield
*Tops International, 7200 Niagara Falls Boulevard, Niagara Falls and Tops in Lewiston, 9060 Center St.
*The Buffalo News, 8353 Niagara Falls Boulevard at Military Road, Niagara Falls *For large, group donations of gifts, call Deborah Patti at 849-5524.
*Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, Station C Post Office, 1245 Main St., P.O. Box 444, Buffalo, NY 14209-0444.
*Donate online by going to www.buffalonews.com/neediest
The Western New York Holiday Partnership is a collaboration between The Buffalo News Neediest Fund, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, Central Referral Services, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., Hamburg Youth Bureau, Ladies of Charity, Lancaster Youth Bureau, New Creation Fellowship, Niagara County Partnership, Response to Love Center, the Salvation Army, the USMC Toys for Tots program, the United Way, West Seneca AmeriCorps and WNY Hispanics & Friends.