Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 31 July 2012 13:40
David “Red” Ellis and wife Shannon will long remember the events that led to a horrific accident June 30.
Impressed forever in Shannon’s memory are her feelings of helplessness seeing her husband with burns over 30 percent of his body.
The day started with Red helping Shannon’s brother and his family move from one house to another one a few doors down the street.
“One of the last things my brother and Red were going to do was get the car out of the garage and take it to the new place,” she said.
The vehicle they were moving was a 1970 Dodge, which Shannon described as an “old school car” in the process of being restored.
The car was in the back of the garage. As Red was priming the carburetor with gasoline to get it started, a spark inside the engine exploded through the carburetor, creating a huge fireball that ignited the car and Red’s bare skin.
In an instant, Red was ablaze from his neck to his waist. The flames blinded him as he struggled to escape the garage in order to extinguish the fire.
“My brother doesn’t know how Red made it out the door of the garage being unable to see,” Shannon said.
Shannon’s brother rushed Red to Hillsboro Community Hospital by car. The staff partially determined the extent of his injuries then had him transported by helicopter to the burn unit at Via Christi in Wichita.
“He had second- and third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body,” Shannon said.
Unfortunately, the extent of the burns didn’t tell the whole story.
“That first night we learned he was burned inside after inhaling the smoke and flames,” Shannon said. “His lungs were burnt, one almost burned to a crisp.”
At about 3:30 a.m. the next day, Red’s breathing was labored, she said. Doctors discovered his throat also was swollen and his airways were dangerously constricted.
“They put him into a medically induced coma with a breathing tube down his throat and feeding tube for about a week,” she said.
The doctors’ biggest concern, she said, was that Red’s windpipe would close.
In addition to the agonizing pain from burns to his chest, Red’s right hand, left lung, right eye, liver and vocal chords were injured in varying degrees.
Only two weeks after the incident, Red was released from Via Christi.
“Doctors wanted him to go into rehab for use of his hand back, but we wanted to go home,” Shannon said.
The pain is intolerable at times for her husband, she added.
“To look at him, the outside burns are going through the healing process,” she said. “It is the inside that is painful.”
Initially, Red lost his voice; he can talk now, but it’s different because of vocal-chord damage.
“It’s also hard for him to breathe and sleep at night,” Shannon said. “He sometimes feels like he is drowning.”
Red also needs 24-hour care.
“He can get up on his own,” but he is in a lot of pain, so I am there to help him and make sure he isn’t having to move a lot,” she said.
Other than to make him as comfortable as possible, Shannan said she can’t do much more to help her husband.
“I have never seen somebody in so much pain and knowing there is nothing I can do, but pray for him,” she said.
Surgeons and doctors met with Red last Friday and determined he was progressing better than expected. Shannon said the prognosis for his left lung has been upgraded.
“The lung is starting to work again,” she said. “The doctor also checked his right thumb and put him on antibiotics for the infection.”
Another big concern was whether he would need skin graphs, but for now it doesn’t appear he will.
“Praise the Lord,” she said. “Red is doing well considering all he has been through.”
Shannon said she had recently received a promotion at her job, which included insurance benefits. But because of a waiting period, coverage was in effect at the time of the accident.
The insurance company will pay some of the bills, Shannon said, but they won’t pay the initial expenses, including the cost of the LifeWatch helicopter.
Many of Red’s doctor visits are local, but Shannon said they are driving to Wichita for other appointments.
“The doctor said Red was lucky because everybody did the right thing (after the accident),” she said.“(Doctors) also said they were glad Red didn’t have a shirt on, because it would have melted to his skin and probably caused an infection.”
Red and Shannon both say they would rather be on the giving side of helping people, but they are reaching out to the community for financial help for their mounting medical expenses.
Shannon said they plan to establish an account at one of the local banks for his medical expenses, but because of the time and care her husband needed in the beginning, she hasn’t done it yet.
“I am hoping to get it done this week,” she said.
For Shannon, who believes in the power of prayer, she wanted to thank everyone for all their love and support during this painful ordeal.
“Most of all, I want to thank everyone for their prayers,” she said.
Even if people could continue keeping Red in their thoughts and prayers, Shannon said, that would be a big help.
“It would really take his mind off this knowing there are others thinking about him,” she said.
Cards and well-wishes of support from people in the community can reach Red at 115 N. Birch St., Hillsboro, KS 67063.