A student has detailed how he felt his skin melt after accidentally setting himself on fire while cooking fried chicken – leaving him with third-degree burns over 25 per cent of his body.
Gage Hopkins, 21, from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the freak accident, which took place in his apartment at Arizona State University on May 26.
The political science student and his roommate Nikhil, 21, were cooking fried chicken but forgot about the oil they had left in a pot on the stove. Disaster ensued when Nikhil noticed that black smoke was pouring from the lid.
Horrible: Gage Hopkins, 21, from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, suffered from third-degree burns over 25 per cent of his body after a kitchen accident
Painful: Gage was cooking fried chicken with his roommate when they noticed that black smoke was pouring from the pot on the stove. When he lifted the lid, flames erupted in his face
‘Out of panic, I removed the lid from the pot and instantly a six to seven-foot flame erupted in my face,’ Gage recalled.
‘As soon as I grabbed the pot, the flame was in my face. My shirt caught fire. I felt my neck burning. The skin on my hands was melting to the metal handles of the pot, and at that point, I knew I made a huge mistake.’
The situation was made even worse when Gage tripped over a trashcan and poured the remainder of the burning oil down his legs, which also caught fire.
Looking at himself in his bathroom mirror, Gage realized just how serious the situation was. The cooking oil had caused his skin to melt away, leaving open wounds and blisters all over his body, with his legs being the worst affected.
Terrifying: The situation was made even worse when he tripped over a trashcan and poured the remainder of the burning oil down his legs, which also caught fire
Nightmare: Gate was taken to the Burns ICU at Valleywise Medical Centre in Phoenix, where he awoke to a nurse feeling his feet and telling a doctor that he was losing circulation in his left leg
Trauma: The cooking oil had caused his skin to melt away, leaving open wounds and blisters all over his body, with his legs being the worst affected
‘I was screaming to my roommate to help in pain, but my vision was black and I could not see,’ he said. ‘Honestly, I believe by seeing what my skin looked like kept me awake and alert because I knew if I were to blackout, I would be in much more danger.’
While his roommate called emergency services, Gage made his way out of their apartment to avoid smoke inhalation. He waited 15 minutes for three firefighters and two paramedics to arrive
‘I thought I was in a dream, I couldn’t believe what was going on, my heart was racing, I was dizzy, and I knew my body was losing a lot of water,’ he said.
‘All I remember after that is being taken outside in one hundred plus degree weather with the sun beaming down onto me, being put into the back of the ambulance.’
Remnants: The pants Gage were wearing at the time of the accident were burned through
Ouch: Gage said he felt the skin on his hands melting to the metal handles of the pot
Scary: Gage was at risk of having his leg amputated, but the medical staff was luckily able to return circulation to his severely burned limb
Gate was taken to the Burns ICU at Valleywise Medical Centre in Phoenix, where he awoke to a nurse feeling his feet and telling a doctor that he was losing circulation in his left leg.
‘A doctor came in with a clipboard and a paper asking for my permission to amputate my left leg. Without hesitation, I checked off the “no” box and broke down,’ he recalled.
Fortunately, the medical staff was able to return circulation to his leg by cleaning the wound thoroughly. Over the next three days, Gage underwent four skin grafts on his legs, arms, and face using skin from his thighs.
‘Dressing changes were by far the most painful thing I have experienced besides being burned. I would never wish what happened to me on anyone,’ he said.
Awful: Gage said his dressing changes were the most painful thing he has ever experienced
Support: Gage is now out of the hospital and recovering at home with his girlfriend and his parents
Celebration: Gage was still able to enjoy his milestone 21st birthday with friends and family
All smiles: The political science student at Arizona State University is pictured with his girlfriend on his birthday
After five weeks in recovery, Gage was discharged and returned home to Pennsylvania where he continues his outpatient rehab and undergoes physical therapy four times per week. To this day he still suffers daily with nerve pain, severe itching, and discomfort from his tightened skin.
While the physical symptoms of the burns are gradually getting better, the psychological effects of such a traumatic accident still stay with the student.
‘My psychiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it’s been hard both on me, my family, and my girlfriend,’ said Gage, who now suffers from panic attacks.
‘I always ask myself: “Why did I grab the pot? What would have happened if I just pushed the pot off the heat? Why didn’t my roommate react?” My nightmares also get to me but I have to learn to deal with them.’
End result: While the physical symptoms of the burns are gradually getting better, Gage now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic attacks
Outlook: Gage said the accident has changed his life, and he is now more positive
New perspective: Gage said he is grateful to be alive after his traumatic accident
Gage said the accident has changed his life, and while he is doing better, he has a long way to go until he is back to his version of ‘normal.’
‘Everyone knows the generic saying, “Don’t take life for granted,” but honestly, I took life for granted before my accident,’ he said. ‘Now I realize that any day can be your last. Some freak accident can happen, then boom, you’re gone forever.
‘Before my accident, I was not the most positive person in the world and even my girlfriend told me she noticed a change in my positivity,’ he continued.
‘I believe I reacted with positivity because I’m grateful to be alive after my accident, it could have been much worse if I was not wearing what I was wearing.
‘Being down and negative throughout this situation would have been the worst thing for me because it would have shown that I’m not grateful for being alive today.’