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.