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Surviving the flame: Burn victim heals physically and emotionally

Sunday, September 23, 2012

(Photo)
Dustin Rhodes returned to work at Shelbyville Lumber last week, after recovering from a July accident in which he suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. He has emerged from the incident thankful for the support of the community, and knowing his life has changed.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
When he looks in the mirror, he sees mostly the scars on his face. A good-looking young man, this is a major paradigm shift, one of many he's learning to live with.

"All I see is my face that was burned, even though I'm healing," said Rhodes.

In late July, Dustin Rhodes was lighting a fire in a concrete pit in a friend's backyard. A former volunteer firefighter, what he didn't know was that someone else had been burning in the pit earlier in the day -- using a fuel the fumes from which had gathered at the base long after the fire was out.

(Photo)
The scars are healing, but remain outlined in the edges of the clothing and shoes he was wearing when struck by a flash fire.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis)
The resulting flash fire wrapped completely around his body, catching him on fire. His fire training kicked in; he dropped and rolled to put the flames out.

He was treated at Vanderbilt University Hospital for the second- and third-degree burns covering the parts of his body which were not clothed. The outline of his swim trunks, his sleeveless T-shirt, even the flip flops he was wearing, are all still clear in the pattern of the scars which remain.

Although not covered by health insurance, he spent a week in intensive care and was discharged with strict instructions regarding burn care and treatment at home. He was re-admitted a few days later with a staph infection and was treated with antibiotics and hydrotherapy.

Known to be hard-working, active and independent, he's also had to adjust to the down time required for healing. "I see me laying in the hospital bed not being able to do anything," he said, clearly frustrated.

Getting up and going to work in the morning is different now. He admits, "... a lot of days I just want to lock the door and stay in bed."

The pain has eased in the last two months, now mostly residing in his legs and feet, which suffered the worst of the burns. "It feels like a million small needles poking me when I kneel and bend my legs."

In truth, the external scars aren't nearly as apparent to others as they are to him.

He returned last week to his job at Shelbyville Lumber. Although the community came together to support him with donations and a benefit event, the medical bills are overwhelming for a young man of 23. "I know I'll be paying for this the rest of my life," he said, worried -- but clear about his faith. "God has everything happen for a reason."

He has been overwhelmed by the support provided by the community, and has emerged thankful for many things. "I was shocked that everyone came to support me. Yes, I would rather go out and do stuff on my own, but I am thankful for everything that has been done for me to help me along the way."

The accident has taught him to that training is no substitute for caution. He knows he's lucky to be alive, to have survived, "I could have lost my life in the fire."

A benefit account has been established in the name of Dustin Rhodes at First Community Bank of Bedford County. Cards and letters of encouragement may be mailed to Rhodes at 312 Thompson St., Shelbyville, TN 37160.Dustin Rhodes returned to work at Shelbyville Lumber last week, after recovering from a July accident in which he suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. He has emerged from the incident thankful for the support of the community, and knowing his life has changed.

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