Most of the details of the accident that left 76 percent of Alex Trevino’s body burned are a blur to him.
It was February 3, 2009, he knows that. He remembers assembling scaffolding in a coal dust collector at the WE Energies plant in Oak Creek. He remembers the giant fire ball that engulfed the 65-foot-tall structure when the light bulbs they were using ignited the highly flammable dust. He remembers pulling himself through the small, manhole-sized opening and falling the seven feet to the frozen ground below. He remembers his clothes being burned off and his smoldering body melting into the snow and ice. After that, the next two months are merely fragments.
“All I could see was fire,” Alex says. “It was really disorienting.”
Alex was with five other co-workers when the explosion ripped through the Oak Creek power plant that winter morning. One of them, Jake, a former Marine like Alex, luckily still had his equipment packs from training in his truck. The thermal blankets and burn gel helped keep Alex comfortable till paramedics arrived.
It wasn’t long before Flight For Life was on the scene and rushing Alex to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, who quickly assessed him and transferred him to Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center. Alex would spend the next 77 days at the Burn Center, the first two months in a medically induced coma.
“I remember waking up and I had really bad double vision and I couldn’t move because my body had been immobile for so long,” Alex says. “I could hardly talk.”
Alex’s legs needed to be entirely skin grafted and his hands were so badly burned that doctors had to insert tendon pins to immobilize his fingers while they healed. The double vision would subside in a week or two and soon after he was up and starting his physical therapy, the beginning of a very long and very trying journey.
“I had to start at square one. I could barely stand up without help. It was horrible,” Alex says. “Little by little, I started walking again. From being heavy into physical activity and really into outdoor stuff and now I couldn’t even walk, it was pretty tough.”
Today, the 25-year-old has settled nicely into his new life. There are some things that he used to love to do that he no longer can – and others that he just doesn’t care to anymore. The accident has reshaped his perspective on life and he’s not taking anything for granted.
“It really has changed my whole life, in every aspect,” Alex says. “I just appreciate my life and my family more.”
The scars that cover Alex’s arms and legs are now mostly covered in tattoos – not a conscious effort to hide, but rather he’s indulging in a hobby he had before the accident. He even owns his own tattoo shop – with a second one opening soon at the Harley-Davidson dealership on Highway 100 and Silver Spring. It was goals like that that helped guide Alex through his recovery. Though his life as he once knew it may be gone, the idea that he was working toward creating a new one helped keep his spirits up.
“I tried to maintain a positive attitude,” Alex says. “It was a really hard time but I remember being able to make jokes about stuff.”
It’s that positive outlook that he tries to instill in fellow burn survivors today. About a year after his accident he became deeply involved in patient outreach as a camp counselor at the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety Camp for Burn Injured Youth, as a SOAR Volunteer, and as a member of the Burn Survivor Support Group and The Phoenix Society. Through all the trauma and pain, Alex has learned the importance of a strong support system, and that’s the message he passes onto fellow survivors.
“I offer my story and my perspective to show them that it’s okay. I show them pictures from day one of my accident, how horrible I was, and then look at me today. I’m getting my life back,” Alex says. “I tell them it’s not impossible. It takes time, it’s a long road, but you’re not alone. It’s tough now but people are here to help, we care about you. You can do this.”