As the fireball erupted around him, marine mechanic Gord Smith instinctively dropped to the ground. Luckily, his son was nearby hosing off another piece of machinery or things might have been much worse.
That morning, the Flamborough business owner decided to cut the lawn on his rural property before going to his shop. With an extreme heat alert in effect and the humidex forecast to hit 46°C, he wanted to get it done before early. While filling the lawn tractor with fuel after finishing up, a static discharge ignited the volatile fumes.
The flash was over in a second, but under the intense heat, his athletic shorts caught fire, leaving extensive second and third degree burns as they melted down his legs. Gord was rushed to Hamilton General Hospital, where he spent over three weeks in the Burn Unit, one of Ontario’s two Specialty Burn Treatment Centres. Due to the severity of his injuries, Gord required skin grafts to most of his left leg and parts of his right leg, a treatment that can be more painful than the injury itself.
The doctors warned me it was going to be bad but I had no idea,” says Gord. “I have a high pain tolerance, but the days after the grafts were unbearable.” The delicate process involved securing panels of healthy skin, taken from elsewhere on his body, over the wounds using more than 1,000 staples. It is vital to the procedure’s success that the grafts were not disturbed, so in spite of the intense pain, Gord had to remain perfectly still in the days that followed.
As far as patients go, Gord was about as good as they get,” says Lori Schoonderbeek, one of the Nurse Clinicians involved in his care. “He followed our instructions to the letter and it really made a difference to his recovery. He had over 95 per cent take with his grafts, which with large burns is virtually unheard of.”
Once discharged, Gord continued to visit the unit’s burn and scar control outpatient clinic every few days to have his dressings changed until the wounds were fully closed. He has since been outfitted with special compression garments that help promote even healing. “It was a real roller coaster ride, but I give full credit to the burn team for making it tolerable,” says Gord. “They really are outstanding. From the nurses and the doctors to the therapists and even the cleaning staff, everyone was great.”