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Burn survivor stunned by orangutan’s reaction to her scars at Indianapolis Zoo

INDIANAPOLIS — A woman who was badly burned in an accident is receiving international attention after an interaction she had with a curious orangutan at the Indianapolis Zoo, according to WXIN.

Darci Miller was working in her backyard on May 5, 2015, when she tried to clear out garbage by burning it, accidentally igniting gas fumes in the process.

Darci Miller provided this photo of her burn treatment to FOX59

She was hospitalized for three weeks and underwent multiple surgeries.

"I was in a coma for nine days," Miller said.

The majority of the burns were on her upper arms, chest and face. She recovered well, and she was eventually allowed to go home as long as she was under 24-hour care.

She’s had numerous surgeries since then in order to get more range of motion in her neck and arms.

On June 14, 2017, she traveled to Indianapolis with her fiancé Jason Costello for an appointment at the burn center. They had some free time, so they decided to go to the Indianapolis Zoo. Miller told WXIN it had been years since she last visited the zoo, so she wanted to check out the new orangutan exhibit.

That's where Miller met Rocky. The orangutan appeared to be fascinated with Miller and her injuries.

"He immediately spotted me and came over to the window and was very engulfed in everything I had going on," said Miller. "It was kind of a guessing game. He was just pointing to everything so I was just showing him the bandages on my neck, and my tattoos and the burns on my arms."

One of the zookeepers told Miller that Rocky is very inquisitive, and he’s very interested by tattoos or anything out of the ordinary.

Miller told WXIN she was thinking, “There is no way this is possible. Is this real?”

Miller says she spent 20 minutes in the exhibit interacting with Rocky. She left with Costello to explore other areas of the zoo, but they stopped by the orangutan exhibit one last time before leaving. She said Rocky immediately came to the window to greet them, and it was clear he recognized her.

Miller says the past few years have definitely been filled with ups and downs, and this interaction was definitely one of the ups.

“This day made me feel really good about myself,” Miller said.

Zoo officials have also seen the video.  A spokesperson issued the following statement about the interaction between Rocky and Miller:

"Like all orangutans, Rocky is observant and curious. Our orangutans eagerly interact and communicate with people they know well, such as their caregivers. Rocky is a bit different. He regularly interacts with people he may not know. The exchange in the video is a great example of this.

Rocky is communicating with the woman in the video, and shows a clear sense of urgency when he gestures towards her injury. We can’t say what was going through his mind at the time, but his behavior demonstrates strong interest and concern. There is no doubt that this was an important interaction for him, and his gestures to the woman clearly communicate that."

The attention is nothing new for Rocky. The 12-year-old orangutan has gotten national attention for mimicking human sounds, the first known orangutan to do so. He's also had a photo shoot where he was paired up with the singer Fergie.

Miller said she has offered to help firefighters show young students the dangers of fire. She's also looking forward to meeting Rocky again and seeing if she gets a similar reaction.