Eli Beasley suffered burns over 75-percent of his body in October 2018. Jeffrey Litt, DO, the director of MU Health Care’s George D. Peak Memorial Burn and Wound Center, used a new spray-on skin treatment to help the burns heal quickly.

Eli Beasley, a federal wildland firefighter of five years, knew the risks of starting a fire with accelerants. But he didn’t foresee the danger brewing.

He lit a match.

He later found out that neighbors called the police because they thought a bomb had exploded. The explosion was so powerful it etched Beasley’s silhouette onto the white SUV parked behind him.

He stopped, dropped and rolled. Suddenly, he could feel his uncle’s hands on him and rolled toward them. His uncle used his jacket to try to put out the flames, but the flames disintegrated the coat.

“The only time in this whole experience I had no hope was whenever my uncle quit touching me,” Beasley recalled. “He ran in, got a Carhartt coat, got a burlap sack and essentially put me out. That was when I took my first breath, and it reassured me that I was going to be alive.”

Beasley has told the story of the minute that changed his life countless times in the past year. But he has more to tell.

“That’s what everyone wants to hear, but that’s just the smallest part of the story,” he said. “The story is really about recovery.”

INNOVATIVE TREATMENT

When Beasley arrived at MU Health Care’s Level 1 trauma center, he was burned over 75-percent of his body — including his face — and the majority of the burns were third-degree, meaning the skin was damaged beyond repair. The trauma team stabilized Beasley, ensured he received enough fluids to keep his organs functioning and inserted a breathing tube.

A few days later, Jeffrey Litt, DO, the director of MU Health Care’s George D. Peak Memorial Burn and Wound Center, gauged the size and depth of the burns to determine next steps. Litt removed a section of healthy skin and sent it to a lab in Massachusetts that created sheets of skin that would be grafted onto Beasley’s body. It takes about three weeks to grow those sheets of skin. In the meantime, Beasley received a new spray-on skin treatment on the deepest burns.

Spray-on skin, or ReCell, involves taking a section of healthy skin — an amount that is far smaller than what is needed for a standard graft — and scraping of the healthy skin cells after mixing them with an enzyme solution. The process takes about a half-hour. That mixture is then sprayed on the burn, and a fresh layer of healthy skin starts to grow.

“The biggest downside of burn surgery and skin graft surgery, since we’ve started doing it decades ago, is that there is no way to do it without creating another wound that the patient needs to heal from,” Litt said. “Using spray-on skin dramatically reduces the size of a wound we need to create. You can do it fairly quickly, and it allows us to get wounds to heal up sooner than we otherwise would have.”

That procedure was just the beginning. Beasley spent about two months in the hospital and has frequently flown back from Arizona for additional skin grafts.

PICKING UP THE PIECES

Part of Beasley’s motivation to heal was knowing he was going to be a father. His wife, Kerry, was 16 weeks pregnant at the time of his accident. While still critical in the ICU, they celebrated a gender reveal in which they learned they were having a daughter.

After his wounds healed, he began physical and occupational therapy workouts five days a week in Arizona. Gradually, he returned to his favorite activities. He went snowboarding in January, only weeks after his inpatient rehab discharge.

In March 2019, he and his wife welcomed their daughter, Ellie. Beasley couldn’t pick her up at the time because he had partial paralysis of his right arm. Now, to calm her down, he pulls out his guitar and plays it for her. He said it is good therapy for his hands, and even better for Ellie.

His recovery is ongoing, and he is optimistic about his future.

“It’s like you have to wake up every day and choose to pick up the pieces of your old life, or try to find as much of who you used to be and merge that with who you’re going to be for the rest of your life,” he said. “So it’s always trying to find out who you used to be, who you can still become, how much you can still grow.”

COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE

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