Several years ago as I was surfing the web, I came across a truly amazing story of a young, 28-year-old, Phoenix officer who was horribly burned in a crash involving a taxi cab driver who, while driving, suffered a seizure. On that fateful evening in March 2001, Officer Jason Schechterle’s Crown Victoria was stopped at a light. A speeding taxi – piloted by a driver who was suffering a seizure – struck the officer’s car from behind at a speed approaching 100 miles an hour.
The Crown Victoria burst into a ball of flame, and the officer was trapped inside secured by his seat belt. But, a Phoenix fire truck was nearby and responded to the accident; the crew worked feverishly to free the officer. As the fire fighters pulled the young officer from the crushed and still burning vehicle they wondered if they had done him a favor.
Fellow officers gathered at the Maricopa Medical Center. Doctors, who had been home getting ready for bed, began to assemble expecting the arrival of a burn patient with possible third degree burns. When Officer Schechterle was wheeled in, the doctors were stunned at his condition. The burns were much worse than they had anticipated.
The doctors had to work in a stifling environment – 90 degrees to offset the loss of body heat that is attendant with severe burn cases as the blackened and dead skin is removed. Fluid oozes from the body and the once-protective layers of skin no longer encase muscles and bones.
The officer’s face and head were destroyed by fourth degree burns – the likes of which the doctors had never seen. As the doctors continued to remove layer after layer of skin, they began to realize that the result would be to leave the officer with no living tissue and literally no face. But they continued with the knowledge that it was the only way to give the officer a fighting chance to survice. In the morning, the doctors looked at what was left: gone were the eyelids, the eyebrows, most of the nose and the ears. He had no cheeks or forehead, no skin whatsoever.
As Officer Schechterle slowly regained his strength and began his road to recovery, he struggled with the reality that he would never be that young officer again. But he and his wife knew that while he had lost his facial identity, he had gained a new role in life. Today he speaks to burn victims and works on behalf of charitable organizations, inspiring others by his own struggle and survival.
Photo Credit: http://www.uslawman.com
Photo Credit: Google Images
And just why have I written about this officer? Sometimes when we – and I include myself – struggle with our own physical difficulties, we need reminded of the heroes out there who have shown courage and spirit beyond compare.
In the morning I wake up in pain, and in the evening I go to bed in pain. My hips were dislocated at birth, and, by the age of five, I had undergone three surgeries – one on each knee and one to insert a stainless steel pin in my right hip. The other hip was “popped” back into place. And to add to the hip dislocation, I was born with only partial hip shelves.
By the age of six, I had spent 20 months in body casts. When those were removed I had to learn to walk again, and I had to wear a knee brace for months – sometimes aided by crutches. And, I had to go to physical therapy three times a week at the Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne for months and months. Children can be cruel at young ages, and I remember being called names.
My parents had no one to help with me because in those days polio was a scare, and the neighbors and others that Mom and Dad knew were convinced that I had polio and was contagious, so they avoided being around me.
So, every now and then when I begin to feel sorry for myself – wishing I could have just one day without pain before I die, I go out onto the web, and I revisit Officer Schechterle’s struggle. I find after re-reading his struggle, that his courage as well as others who have suffered much more than I, reinforce just how fortunate I am.
We need these heroes in our lives – to ground us and to give us hope and faith and to inspire us to do better and to accept those circumstances that we have been dealt. I choose to remind myself of Officer Schecterle’s fight, but there are dozens if not hundreds out there who are heroes – we just need to find them.