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Annapolis native Steven Moyer has spent his entire career in thoroughbred horse racing. On a breezy April Tuesday off work in 2022, he was tending to some yard work, splitting firewood, clearing bamboo, brush, and branches, when he came across a small, abandoned gas can. It didn’t have a lid and was nearly empty.
“Never build a fire on a windy day,” is life advice that Steven now lives by and shares with others. On that fateful day in April, he had built a fire and when he went to pour the contents of the gas can on it, Steven said the fire blew up like a bomb, “the gas can itself just disappeared. The bamboo about 10 feet away was on fire, and my right shoulder and my shirt were also ablaze.” Another person was on his property helping with the yardwork, so he patted the flames out with his hand and came around a tree to look for help. “I got hit with a big gust of wind and I just went up like a torch on the entire left side of my body,” Steven recalled. The person with him took off their coat to beat the flames off of Steven, but damage was already done.
Steven has a positive outlook despite the accident, and he feels the first positive in his favor was time. He wasn’t alone and the person with him acted quickly. He wrapped a damp towel around his face and neck and feels that prevented a lot of further damage. The paramedics arrived within minutes, and the medevac helicopter arrived soon after. “From the time I ignited to the time I was at the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, probably an hour and 15 minutes had passed and that put me ahead of the curve for resuscitating my skin with fluids,” he shared.
The Right Place for Care
The medevac helicopter had planned to transport Steven to another hospital, but quickly rerouted him to MedStar Washington due to a major car accident on I-95. Once Steven arrived, the Burn Unit team went into full action mode. He had burned his left shoulder to his elbow and already had scar tissue. His left hand was also badly burned, and his pinky was barely visible. Most of his stomach and his left leg were also severely burned. “I had third degree burns on 36% of my body,” shared Steven. “It was really serious stuff, and I was given a 7% chance of living. If I beat those odds, it was unlikely I’d regain full function in my hand.”
After 5 skin grafts, 4 weeks in intensive care, and 35 days in inpatient rehabilitation, Steven not only defied the odds, but surpassed expectations. “I was told I would be in inpatient rehab for 90 days, but the care I received made such a difference and, even though I was bandaged up like the abominable snowman, I got myself up with a walker and walked the floors as soon as I could,” he said.
When it was time to be discharged from the hospital, Steven’s initial reaction was that he didn’t want to go home. “It was such a blessing that I ended up at the Burn Center,” said Steven, “because it’s impossible in my estimation and based on my experience for there to be any better place. It’s a magical place full of gifted people who are unsung heroes for their contributions to society. I went to the right place.”
A Healing Bond
He credits his care team with putting him back together, like Humpty Dumpty or like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz who needed to be oiled to get him working again. “I had limited use of my left hand for a long time, but they rebuilt that for me,” said Steven. “Their confidence in their abilities and mine made me believe I could recover and move forward.”
From the careful attending to his injuries multiple times a day, Steven really got to know staff and considers them personal friends. “I have very strong feelings for a lot of the people who work there,” shared Steven. “We formed a bond and that was beneficial to me, so it was hard to leave but they had prepared me both physically and emotionally to reenter the community.”
He also made lasting connections in outpatient rehabilitation after his hospital discharge. “When I’d come in for rehab and laser therapy, I loved bringing treats or small gifts to my care team. I feel very indebted to them and wanted to take the opportunity to thank them.” Even though he’s no longer receiving treatment, he still stops by, sends notes and postcards when he travels, and shares a meal from time to time. “It’s because of them that I can travel again,” Steven said. “I really want to give back to the place and the people.”
Steven doesn’t look back or focus on “what ifs”. Instead, he looks at each day with gratitude and a new perspective. “What happened to me was a freak accident,” he said. “Accidents happen and you can’t dwell on it or get stuck on ‘why me’. I accept what happened and that has allowed me to move forward, heal, recover, and respect the fact that I’ve been burned without being ashamed by it. It’s a lifechanging trauma that has given me a renewed appreciation for humanity.”
In the year and a half since his accident, Steven has resumed driving, full-time employment, and even received a promotion. He will be speaking at this year’s Phoenix World Burn Congress, October 4 – 7, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, the largest gathering of burn survivors, their families, burn care professionals, and the fire service industry.
He hopes that by sharing his story he can help other burn survivors heal, thrive in their recovery, and see that they can be ok, “Every case is different, and every person is different, but you can still have quality in your life. This isn’t the end of the road and there is plenty of light still at the end of the tunnel.”
About the Burn Center
The Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center treats more than 500 acute burn-injured patients admitted for treatment each year, with another 700 treated as outpatients. The Center is the only adult burn treatment unit in the Washington Metropolitan area, serving the District, Southern Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Eastern West Virginia. The Burn Center hosts inpatient and outpatient support groups, which are available to all burn victims, regardless of where they received treatment.