Burn victim strives to recover

CREATED Nov 21, 2012

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MILWAUKEE - When George Bennett shows up here, the ladies flock to him.

There is laughter on the Milwaukee hospital floor where doctors care for this state's most critical burn trauma patients.  There is joy because of what George Bennett overcame to be here today.

This is the Columbia St. Mary's Regional Burn Center.  The women are part of the medical team that saved George's life.

George was working inside a giant, industrial underground gas station tank in 1995.  He was spraying a protective coating.  Suddenly, the coating caught fire and spread so fast that George could not escape.  The inferno was so intense that George gave up and thought it was the end.

“I will tell you that's when God came to me,” George told TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.  “All He said was, 'stand up George.'”

Moments later, a passerby pulled George out of that burning hole.

“Grabbed him under the arm and then yanked him and rolled him over,” the rescuer told TODAY’S TMJ4 in 1995.

George was rushed by ambulance with burns as severe as they get.  The months ahead would be what George now calls his darkest hours.  He was in a coma for two months.

“That was just the start,” George said.

It would be more than half a year in the hospital.  George's driving inspiration to get back on his feet was his then fiancée Vivian.  

"Usually, I start to cry when he tells the story, even though it has a very happy ending,” Vivian said during the interview at their Washington County home.  “We had a couple close calls where we almost lost him on the burn unit, so it was really something.”

“Looking at her, what more reason do you need,” George said with a smile.

Many of the scars are still obvious.  Surgeons were, at times, creative when restoring what was left of George's badly damaged body.

“They put these toes on for fingers,” George said as he demonstrated his own toes now affixed to his hand.

To help TODAY’S TMJ4 understand what happened to his skin, George brought out the jeans he wore the day he was burned.  There are holes made by the smoldering pieces of polyester that fell from the top of the tank.

“I thought that was how I was going to die,” George said.  “It was probably very, very close.”

It is easy to be inspired when you talk to the Bennetts.  Coming out the coma, George said the only direction he could go was up.  Today, George is not just surviving, he's living.

“I am very thankful for what I have and I wish other people would be thankful for what they have, too,” George said.

There were multiple investigations into what caused the tank fire that severely burned George.  It remains an unsolved mystery.