Location: Queretaro, Mexico

Date Of Injury: July 15, 1999

I was working for a marketing company out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, when I sustained second and third degree burns over 93 percent of my body on July 15, 1999, in Queretaro, Mexico.

I was operating video equipment on an asphalt plant when the accident occurred. While filming, I slipped on a sandy substance around the edges of a pit of superheated water (approx. 180 F.) that was covered with a mossy-type film.

There was no barrier around the pit and I slipped and fell, camera and all, into the water. I tried to pull myself out after submerging, but needed help from some workers. My legs were in the water longer than the rest of my body before I could be pulled out, leaving the area below my waist with the most damage.

After being placed in a shower onsite, I noticed the skin beginning to fall off my arms and legs. I was rushed to a small clinic some 10 miles from the site, writhing in pain on a wooden gurney as I begged doctors and nurses (most of whom could not speak English) for morphine. The shot was administered and I was placed on a life flight.

Fortunately, the doctors in the clinic passed on sending me to Mexico City, where I may not have survived, and had me transported to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. I underwent my first grafting surgery and was placed in the Blocker Burn Unit ICU with life-threatening injuries over 93 percent of my body.

At the time, I was 43 years old and shouldn’t have survived but the exceptional care provided at UTMB and the dedicated staff in the burn unit got me through the first few days, as did my wife and father-in-law, who flew down from Ohio.

I was in in Galveston for seven weeks, undergoing two more grafting surgeries while I was there. Since the only good skin came from my scalp, initially, I had that skin peeled several times and combined with cadaver skin was spread over my body. After some skin grew back on the back of my legs and under my arms relatively quickly, that autologous skin was grafted on my posterior, which was very damaged.

The most challenging part of the seven weeks was the nine days I had to spend on my stomach so the skin grafts on my backside wouldn’t be ruined. For a full year after I got home, I wore full-body pressure garments and continued with physical rehab. I have been fortunate to be able to resume all the physical activities of a normal middle-aged man, although many of the vestiges of my 93 percent burn serve as a constant reminder of this severe burn.

Burn Survivor, thomas del signore