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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Shalka '05 could stay in hospital six weeks

The Dartmouth student seriously burned in a hotel fire in Nimes, France, attempted to escape her upper floor room by climbing out onto a ledge, the director of the French language program she is enrolled in said.

Tricia Shalka '05, whose name had been withheld until her father's consent was given, is expected to remain in the burn center of Hospital Lapeyronie in Montpelier, France, for six weeks, French Language Study Abroad Faculty Director Andrea Tarnowski said. Her condition remains critical but stable, Tarnowski said.

Director of Health Services Dr. Jack Turco said that estimate remains tentative. Doctors are keeping Shalka in an artificial coma to prevent pain.

Shalka, an accomplished ice dancer who competes for Dartmouth, suffered serious burns in the early hours of Sunday morning when a fire spread through the Hotel Lusita , where she and another female Dartmouth student had been staying. The two were separated when they took different routes down from the ledge. The other student suffered only mild smoke inhalation, Tarnowski said.

No other Dartmouth students enrolled in the LSA program in Lyon, France, were staying at the hotel. The students had dispersed for travel over the Labor Day holiday.

As of late Wednesday, French authorities had reported only that the cause of the fire remains under investigation, Tarnowski said.

On Tuesday night, Shalka's father arrived at a French airport, where Tarnowski greeted him bearing cards individually created by fellow LSA participants. While Shalka could be moved to a facility closer to home at some point in her recovery, she and her father will likely remain in France while she remains hospitalized, Tarnowski said.

The remaining LSA students learned of the fire when they attended class Monday morning.

While Tarnowski explained that "very naturally, they are very upset," the students will continue on their original schedule of classes, outings and trips in order to maintain a sense of togetherness and structure.

"I don't see them falling apart completely," Tarnowski said.

In Hanover, as Shalka's teammates on the Figure Skating Team at Dartmouth prepared for a prayer service set for Monday at 8 p.m. in Rollins Chapel, friends sketched a portrait of a goofy, fun-loving girl with diverse interests and a highly-developed sense of empathy.

Trained as an ice dancer, Shalka also competes in freestyle events for the skating team. She is a high-scorer who earned nine points at March's Collegiate Nationals, passed to figure skating's gold level --the sport's top designation -- and is by the accounts of her teammates an enthusiastic and energetic team member.

"She's the kind of person who will stand there off the ice and give you a hug" after competitions, Victoria Lee '05 said.

Meg Thering '05 recalled being a part of "Team Cheer" with Shalka at a Boston University meet. The two skaters distributed candy to their teammates in order to raise their spirits --they purchased sour apple flavors for people in bad moods, but found no one who needed it.

"You just kind of have to laugh when you're with her," Allison Haupt '05 said.

Several friends said the strength, strong-will and resilience Shalka developed through figure skating may help her in the recovery process.

Over the Winter and Fall terms, Shalka and Thering served as co-vice presidents of College Republicans. Lee called Shalka a great writer who loves discussing issues; she also worked at Dartmouth's Pottery Studio and is a member of Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority.

Last summer, Shalka studied post-creative depression under advisor and film studies professor David Ehrlich, as one of just eight students awarded research grants by the first year office. As part of her research, Shalka conducted personal interviews with artists from all over the world.

In spite of Shalka's earlier apprehensions about looming war with Iraq, Thering said she quickly grew to love her experience in Lyon. Thering cited classes and her host family as highlights.

Both the students and Shalka's family continue to receive aid from offices including the Dean of the College, Off-Campus Programs and Health Services.

In France, the Dartmouth Club President Evelyn Chan '77 has provided a degree of support Tarnowski described as "utterly amazing." Chan cleared her schedule to spend three days in Montpelier with Shalka's father.

Haupt and other friends are packaging tapes of performances by the Subtleties a capella and Casual Thursday improv groups to mail to Shalka.