The Life Of A Teacher, Musician & Burn Survivor
By: Ariel Gonzalez

My name is Ariel González, I am a Chemical Engineer and I was born in Saltillo, Coah. México. My birth place is the capital of the state of Coahuila in México, and is located south of the border
with Texas. Saltillo, Coah México is the sister city to Austin
Texas. I am currently still living in Saltillo.

Before the burn injury, I worked doing research and as a full time professor, at the Centro de Investigación en Química Aplicada (CIQA) [Applied Chemistry Research Center]. I also worked in the administrative section of a dairy farm in Saltillo and as a full and part time professor at the following schools: the campus of the University of Saltillo Coahuila; the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) [Higher Institute of Technology of Monterrey]; at the University of Ciencias Químicas [Chemical Science]; at the Escuela de Ciencias de la Administración de la Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila [School of Science in Administration, an independent University in the State of Coahuila].

Ariel 30 years Before

I have had a love for music since I was a young man. For thirty years, I have been playing guitar as a soloist, and most of the time in bands that were accompanied by great musicians and friends who were established and recognized in the Saltillo music business.

For the majority of my life, things were was going very well for me and my family. We did not have any major setbacks until the day of the fire. That day was a day I and my family will remember forever. The fire put me into life and death situation. It was due to a horrible accident, at my brotherst home. The accident was caused by human error.

On Monday, in May 26 of 1997, the day of the accident, I was returning from Monterrey, Nuevo León, after picking up my younger brother from the clinic Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) [Mexican Institute of Social Security]. My brother was receiving chemotherapy to try and put in remission his cancer, which finally took his life. Up until that night, I thought that my brothers illness with cancer was the major issue in our lives.

I arrived at Colonia Magisterio [Magisterio Subdivisión], my brothers home, at 7:30 am. Before I even had put the key into the keyhole, I smelled a strong gas odor. The gas odor was coming from the inside of the house. I opened the door and rushed in. I did not even turn on the lights! Without knowing exactly where the gas leak was coming from, I went straight to the back door and opened it in order to allow the air to come in and ventilate the house. In a matter of seconds, a burst of gas escaped towards the back patio. The gas went straight to the water heater. The water heater had a pilot that was turned on. The piolit was enough to cause an enormous ball of fire. I saw the fire coming towards me. The fire completely engulfed my body. Because I saw the fire before it hit me, I had the time to cover my face with my hands. I was only wearing a short sleeve polyester shirt. I did not have an under shirt on. The fire made contact with my hands, fingers, arms, chest and back. The burns in those areas were extensive. I was wearing denim jeans, which helped me to only sustain 2nd degree burns on both my legs.

A gas explosion occurred which caused extensive trauma to my head. I was found unconscious and remained that way for three days. The explosion destroyed did extensive damage to my brothers house. It knocked down the walls, ceiling, and even blew windows and burglary bars. I thank God for not dying during the explosion.

I was lying in the flames unconscious with no way out. My brothers neighbors saw what was happening and several of them decided to risk their own lives to save me. They entered the flames and rubbish, suffering burns to their hands and arms while they carried my smoldering body our of the house.

Initially I was taken to the Red Cross. I was lying there at the hospital, between life and death. A shot time later, I was taken to the Hospital Universitario [University Hospital], where I remained for five days. Due to the severity of the burn injury, 65% of my body so badly burned, I was flown to the Houston's Burn Unit, in Galveston, Texas, USA. I remained at Houston's Burn Unit for two months in a state of shock, and suffering terrible pain. During that time, I went through at least six surgeries, and I endured extremely painful treatments. I was given small amounts of morphine in order to deal with the severe pain.

Ariel Burn Survivor

I remember the unforgettable "Tub Room". This is the room where I had my painful treatments. The room where they would scrape my skin, take the staples off and try to talk me through it. Each time I entered the room, the man in charge of doing these tasks, would immediately turn on the stereo at a very high volume. This was done to prevent the relatives, which were sitting in the waiting room, from hearing the cries and screams of the burn victim during the "cleaning treatments" and other "cleaning procedures" which were done all over your body. I was very happy to be able to listen to my favorite Otmar Lietber. The music did help me to relax and work my way through the traumatic experience.

At the beginning of the "Tub Room" experience, I would feel a rush of "terror," whenever I saw the Filipino man, who was in charge of performing the cleaning treatments. I called him "The Executioner," because each and every time I would see him walk into my room, I knew what he was coming for. The Executioner


was knew so many "bad words" in so many languages. As time went by, I was able to recognize how human The Executioner really was. His task was difficult and necessary. I was finally able to befriend him and not call him The Executioner. Upon leaving the burn unit, I said goodbye to him with tears in my eyes. I was extremely thankful for everything he did for me.

About eleven months after the accident, I underwent several surgeries on my face in order to get rid of the burned skin. It never went away 100% but the surgeries did help my appearance. I also had surgery on my right hand. This surgery was to help me open my hand and stretch my fingers. For this to happen, some of the grafts had to be removed, because they were not allowing me to separate and stretch my fingers and hand.

A year later, I had to again return to the hospital for additional surgeries. I was still enduring terrible pain throughout my entire body, even though I had gone through treatments, and rehabilitation therapy.

When I was finally able to go home, I had to follow daily treatments, I was required
to wear "very tight" Jobst Hose, what I called stretch clothes. I wore the Jobst Hose 23 hours a day for 18 months. My recovery caused me to endurance of a lot of pain, surgeries and rehabilitation therapy. This time in my life was very hard work, and I have to admit, I released many tears. But for all of you reading this story, it was all worth it.

I must say that I was very lucky because God was always by my side, every minute of each day. I am very thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to have had the help of my friends, whom I truly love, when I needed them the most. My friends helped me regain my self-esteem, and get back to a normal life, little by little. Most of all, I am very thankful to God for allowing me to recover enough to hug my children, Ariel, Daniela and Hernán and finally be able to start playing my guitar again. Because God gave me strength, I was able to hold on to life, and accept the way my body changed and was going to be for the rest of my life.

Ariel's Children

Although skin graphs and methods of treatments for burn victims are more advanced in the United States, I was very pleased to find out about the existence of the Michelle y Mau foundation in México City. This organization primarily helps children burn victims, and provides moral support to their families. I now have a better understanding of how accidents can happen, and how people should use some common sense in order to help prevent accidents. In the case of fire accidents, the best thing to do is to try to avoid them. A burn injury is a terrible thing to have to go through.

This has been an enormous experience for me and it has taken a lot out of me, to be able to get to where I am now. I think that from now on in my life I need to make sensible and intelligent
judgments, and be thankful for all the love I got. This type of accident is one of the most painful, costly, and one of the longest to recover from. Having to go through this accident has changed me, and I know it does the same for many other people too. This change was for the good, I thank God I was able to endure this experience.

Today I am the Director - Mexico for Burn Survivors Throughout The World, Inc. (BSTTW). BSTTW contacted me and asked if I would read a poem and possibly write and record the music. I thought about it. I did not know if my hands would be able to play well enough to record a good song. Michael Appleman, the BSTTW CEO, keep telling me that he knows that I can do it. I wanted to record the song, but had doubts. Michael told me about his burn injury and how it took him 2 ½ years to walk again. He said that if I try I can reach the goal of helping others through a song. So I spoke with my band and began working on the song. I wrote the music and gave it to the band members. After several recordings and the help of Pati McLean our singer, the final songs were recorded and today the BSTTW Music CD is available for everyone around the world to listen to and use to help them reach their goals.

Ordinary life creates a false sense of security. Because most of us occupy our minds


in material obsessions, we do not pay attention to many small details. We tend to forget that our existence is limited, and that the most important thing in life is not how much we have, but how much effort we make to find inner peace, help others by doing God's work in order to find the true love and happiness of life.

During my recovery after the burn injury, I had several questions that were constantly in my mind. I would like to offer those questions to all of you reading this article. Think about each one and find your own answer.

Recording BSTTW Music CD

   1. While we are going through a traumatic experience, how should we handle our suffering?

   2. How can we stop the pain?

   3. How can we make the pain, and suffering, our companions on the rough road that we must to travel on?

   4. How can we make the final results for change that occurs finally make the pain and suffering live able?

When will the pain and suffering of our lives be completely over? No doubt when men finally depart, and take their final journey, I believe it's then.

I have found that the encounter with God neutralizes everything, or at least helps us as God gives us the strength needed to ease the journey. It helps us release all kinds of negative feelings. Can we do this all on our own. Most likely no. You need to reach out to your family, friends and organizations like BSTTW. BSTTW offers a support team on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. BSTTW has weekly scheduled chats. The organization has a lot articles and stories that can help you begin to understand the questions relating to what and why. Do not hesitate to reach other and get the help. The ones who do that have a better chance of moving down that road of recovery and rebuilding their lives.

I would like to end this article by saying that I feel that for me, and I hope for all you as well, the best years of my life are yet to come!

Copyright © Burn Survivors Throughout The World, Inc.