[SUNDAY FEATURE]  Beyond fire: 3 stories of survival

Nurses and staff say goodbye to Isabella McCune at the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix on Dec. 17, 2018. The 9-year-old was being discharged nine months to the day after she was severely burned in a home accident. /Photo- Michael Chow/The Republic


By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer

Over the past week, there have been local news stories about horribly burned patients who have made miraculous recoveries.

Isabella McCune of Phoenix spent her ninth birthday in the Arizona Burn Center, just one of the near 300 days. She underwent more than 100 surgical and medical procedures over 60 percent of her body.

She went home this week.

Former police officer Jason Schechterle is familiar to Valley residents as the man who survived the 2001 fiery crash of his patrol car after it was struck by a taxi going 100 mph.in downtown Phoenix.

He was burned over 40 percent of his body and required 50 surgeries.

Every time I hear of cases like Isabella and Jason. I can’t help but relive my two years of surgery for burns over 30 percent of my body after a gasoline explosion.

Like with Isabella, I became bonded with my doctor. I was distraught when he committed suicide.

It wasn’t until recently a missing part of my story was filled in.

After conversations among my circle of cronies, I find we senior citizens have more to look back on than forward. I recently flipped through a family scrapbook, coming upon a newspaper clipping; the headline reads “2 seriously burned in fire.”

The two were a 25-year-old senior veterinary student and me at age 15.

It was not until I reread the article that I recalled the name of the other burn victim. We’ll just call him Bill.

Without going into graphic details, Bill did a heroic act during the fire, but in doing so I suffered burns from the waist down.

I have always wondered what became of Bill because no one would tell me about him from the time of the fire on. There were legal reasons I suppose that prevented me from gaining any information about him.

After I reread the newspaper account, I decided to see if I could find my fellow burn victim. I assumed, however, at age 82, Bill might be deceased.

I checked obituaries with Bill’s name, but none was him. I then contacted the alumni department of the vet college he attended to ask if it had any information on Bill. I was told they could not provide that, but if his contact information were current, my message that I was looking for him would be noted in case he checked in with the college.

I didn’t have much hope I’d ever hear from him.

Then I found an email in my junk file. It was from Bill, alive and well, retired and living on a ranch in Utah. He had suffered severe burns on his arms and hands.

I won’t share our conversations, but the point of this story is to encourage anyone who has cared about someone in their past but lost them and would like to reconnect, make the effort.

If you succeed, your life will be fuller.

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December 2018