Expert burn care, determination, sets Chris Gifford on road to recovery
A life-changing moment
A split second can change a life.
August 23, 2015, began like so many other days. Chris and his son set out to burn a pile of brush – a task they'd done countless times on the 320-acre Gifford farm that once belonged to Chris' grandparents.
A single moment and a miscommunication made this time anything but ordinary. Chris grabbed 2 cans from his son and tossed them on the fire, not realizing they contained gasoline rather than diesel fuel.
"It took a moment for me to register what was happening," Chris notes. "I just remember being puzzled, wondering why there was fire above my head."
His upper body was engulfed in flames. He was covered in gasoline, making the fire difficult to smother. Chris tried to "stop, drop and roll" without success. Hitting the flames on his face only spread the fire.
"I thought about just giving up at some point, but then told myself, 'I can't do that,' and kept at it," he says.
Chris' son jumped on top of him and eventually smothered the flames, but it was no small feat. By the time the fire was out, Chris' T-shirt had somehow come off despite the fact that he'd worn it under a pair of bib overalls.
In shock, Chris was able to calmly talk with his wife, Elaine. The couple headed to the local emergency room at the urging of an EMT friend. During the ride, Chris' pain began, and Elaine started to realize just how badly injured her husband was.
"She didn't let any grass grow under her feet during that drive, I can tell you that," Chris says. "From that point on, there was a lot of hurry and scurry."
Based on the extent of the burns to Chris' neck, chest and arms, the emergency room physician who examined Chris at the nearby local hospital was concerned Chris could have burns in his throat. He ordered a helicopter transport to The University of Kansas Health System, where Chris could receive specialized care and monitoring in the Gene and Barbara Burnett Burn Center, the area's only adult and pediatric burn care facility accredited by the American Burn Association and American College of Surgeons.
"Burn center verification is a mark of distinction and an indicator to patients and their families of the highest quality patient care we provide," says Tracy McDonald, RN, director of the health system's trauma, acute care surgery, burn center and concussion programs. "We form relationships with our patients, that continue long after the hospitalization, through our outpatient burn and wound treatment center and burn survivor program."
The details of his early care remain foggy, but Chris recalls the helicopter ride with good humor.
"It was pretty tight in there, and I remember asking them if they could put a chain on the door to make sure it stayed shut," he says. "What a thrilling ride, though."