Meet Gary Hall - Fellow Burn Survivor
Gary Hall is an inspiring burn survivor. And here is why. Gary knows what is like to carry a burden of embarrassment, endure physical and mental pain and the hard work it takes to overcome it all. His painful and scarred experiences is fuel to his success today.
Here’s how he describes his special day:
June 11th, 2000 is the day that altered the course of my life greatly. That day probably carries more weight than any other day for me - at least until I get married, have a kid, or loose someone very close to me, this is the biggest day and I choose to celebrate it!
My best friend and I were preparing for 9th grade exams in his basement - what we thought at the time was the toughest thing in life haha. As we are stressing over our task, out of nowhere the room goes up in flames. The gasoline made it appear as if liquid fire was rolling towards me and the walls and ceiling went up like in a movie scene. The door would not open due to the suction in the room. In that moment, the panic has overtaken my body. When I could no longer breath and scream, I covered my face and fell to my knees. This moment I will never be able to describe in words. Near death experience? Panic? Pain? Scared? Anger? Sad? Every possible human emotion bundled in few seconds.
I woke up on their lawn. I was in great amount of pain and terrified. I had two individuals leaning over me with a third constantly checking in. There were sirens and lights and I could hear my best friends mom screaming "My boy is still in there". I thought, why wasn't I strong enough to go get him out and how did I get out? I had huge pieces of charred flesh hanging from legs, I couldn't bend any limbs, and my skin had melted down over my left hand keeping me from using that hand. I love and value life but in that moment I would have accepted any exit from that pain. I must have been slipping in and out of consciousness as I have flashes of 2-3 memories in the ambulance and I remember wondering why they couldn't take the pain away.
I wasn't supposed to make it through the first night, or second night having 2nd and 3rd degree burns covering 80% of my body. They had to slice the entire length of all four limbs twice to allow circulation and avoid losing all four limbs. I swelled up to twice my normal weight. What actually came closest to killing me was kidney failure. A lot of my organs were in shock and shutting down to the point of putting all effort into more vital functions. I have so many spotty memories as I was in an induced coma for about four weeks.
I had many surgeries, some placing fake skin to trick my body into thinking it had healed some. They grafted my left arm, then my two legs. I don't consider myself someone who follows any structured religion but I was talking to someone in those moments asking them to allow them to harvest enough skin to piece me back together.
It was a long road to recovery. Grueling physiotherapy and occupational therapy to avoid contractures. Taking a raw, burnt knuckle and bending while it bleeds does not feel so great. You make the best of it. I was shown what could happen if I didn't do it.
I still needed a quite a few post-acute phase surgeries: release contractures on my antecubital (inner elbow) region; release of my neck, twice; one on my hand; head. Had total of 25.
The suits are another joy. They are tight, hot, and very uncomfortable on tender skin. They are very important. They reduce redness and offer some level of protection while your skin is so fragile for quite a while afterwards. The Shriners in Boston did quite a bit for me until I was 20, but I needed to get on with my life and was overall happy with the way I looked. It was not always the case.
This phase of my life had more lows than highs. Seeing my parents mentally break when they couldn't handle how much physical pain they were inflicting when they had to scrape my raw, burned face everyday during cleaning. There was a discharge from the burns that would almost crust over and to scrape it away was excruciating. I contemplated putting us all out of misery. Respect and love towards them pulled me through.
ADJUSTING TO THE WORLD
Recovery had passed and I was destined to live everyday life with physical scars. But little did I know there were mental scars I had yet to live through. Asking a girl out, was one of them. That is nervewrecking for any boy let alone someone with visual “imperfections”. It took me forever to even try. I knew what I looked like for the rest of my life and thought, no way was any girl going to choose to be with me. So, that first rejection scarred me more than my burns. I sat in my 1988 Mustang, yelled and cried. I can still remember it as if it was yesterday.
I put girls on the back burner for a while and this is where my life turned around for better.
I decided I wanted to start working out. I thought, if I can put on some muscle maybe people will look at that first. At least I could mentally tell myself that's what they were looking at.
I was 100lbs when I graduated high school and got a job at a gym. For the next 2-3 years I never deviated from my workout plan or eating regiment. I went from 100lbs up to 154lbs and looked and felt great from my perspective. Working out gave me so much confidence and strength. I watched a bodybuilding show and thought to myself - hey, I want to do that! That will represent me showing the world I conquered my test, I am strong again and not afraid to show the world my scars. So I did it and won 5 first place trophies!
Working at the gym I got to train and run group fitness classes for so many wonderful people. I still have many of them as friends to this day. Helping people change their lives felt amazing. This career really helped me come out of my shell and handle spotlight, public speaking and having people look up to me for guidance - I finally got a beautiful girl to go out with me and I considered her an angel for being able to love me.
With my scars as my motivation, I was able to continue training and living healthy life style. I got into mixed martial arts and enjoyed it tremendously. I was also able to go back to school to advance my education; made Deans list and won few small scholarships. Upon graduating I established a successful career in business and investment management.
To come from a family of modest means, be burned 80% of my body at age 15 and go on to do what I did. If I can do it, truly anyone can.
I wasn't supposed to live. I had to learn to walk again. I had to get good at involuntary breathing again. I didn't have good range of motion on most limbs at first. I looked so different from anyone else. I turned this into my armor. What's encouraging - I've encountered maybe 5 mean people in 17 years. That's not bad at all and you know what, they probably were going through something worse than I was. So my thoughts were with them.
All in all what I would say is, it can be so easy to be a burn victim. You have a choice to be a burn survivor and thrive. We are here once - if that's what you believe in. It's too precious to waste or throw away.
Chase your dreams and smile everyday.
To follow Gary on Instagram follow this link. (@garyhall11)