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Burn Survivor Leaves Hospital, Starts Next Stage of His Life at Home

As a follow-up to my August 9 blog, I found a late-July article in The Los Angeles Times about 19-year-old Derek Thomas, a burn victim whose strong determination, positive attitude and faith have helped him to get out of the hospital and go home even though he was given just a 1 percent chance of survival when he suffered third-degree burns last year.

Nearly 300 people in Encinitas, CA welcomed home Derek, who was burned over 85 percent of his body in a car crash a year ago. The crowd of friends that gathered from the local high school, church and the YMCA where Derek once worked lined up along the driveway at Scripps Rehabilitation Services, where Derek is expected to continue physical therapy for several more weeks.

Upon his arrival from the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center the crowd began cheering, shaking pom-poms and waving signs that said, “We love you D-Rock!” and “I am not a body. I am a soul!”

Earlier, at the Grossman Burn Center, Derek met with some of his rescuers for the first time: the men who helped him right after the car wreck, the emergency room personnel, and the medical staff who flew him via emergency jet to Los Angeles.

During his 11-month stay at the burn center, Derek underwent 42 surgeries and had to have every inch of his burned skin scraped off. As he was leaving for good, much of the staff was in tears as they wished Derek farewell with a pot-luck dinner of homemade dishes, including some of Derek’s favorites.

At about 10 a.m. the next day, Derek sat in a chair flashing a victorious smile during a news conference. He rose briefly to speak to a room full of reporters. What he said that day should serve as an inspiration for anyone who is severely burned, or who suffers some other physical or emotional trauma and hardship in life:

“There are times when you’re going to be down and you’re going to think that there’s nothing in you that can keep on going, But if you have faith and you believe you’re not alone, then you’ll come out on top.”