Archive for Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Tonganoxie man recalls accident

July 10, 2002

Don Conrad's wounds began to heal many years ago. But the decades-old memory of his blast with fire lives on.

On July 13, 1966, Conrad was going about his business as he worked for the school district. As he was mowing vacant school property on the south end of town, the tractor stalled.

"I took the cap off to see if it was out of gas," Conrad said. "It blew gasoline out that hit the manifold. It was a hot day and the manifold was hot it set it on fire and it set me on fire."

Conrad threw himself onto the grass and rolled in the weeds, trying to put the fire out.

A friend saw him.

"Lloyd DeHoff was building a house nearby," Conrad said. "He ran over to where I was at and he took me over to Dr. Parker's house."

From there, Hervey Quisenberry, then owner of Quisenberry Funeral Home, took Conrad to Lawrence Memorial Hospital in his ambulance.

Because burns blistered 65 percent of Conrad's body, mainly on his legs and arms, he was transferred to the burn unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

His hospital stay is a blur.

"I spent two and a half months at KU Med Center," Conrad said. "I didn't touch the floor for two and a half months I couldn't walk."

His wife, Shirley, rarely left his side, but he didn't know it, she said.

"I was there every day for two and a half months and as far as he was concerned I might as well have been at home," Shirley Conrad said.

During his hospitalization, his weight dropped from 150 pounds to 80 pounds.

There were times she worried he might not make it.

"I guess you don't let yourself think that," she said.

But once his recovery began, Conrad made rapid progress. Shortly after he returned home, Conrad went back to work in a wheelchair. Soon he switched to crutches, then to a cane, and finally, to walking unassisted. But there were numerous trips back to the hospital for skin grafts.

Conrad has thought he could encourage other burn patients, but the nightmare of his own experience has prevented him, so far.

"They have a new burn unit at KU Med," Conrad said. "I had a chance to visit it one time but I backed out I wouldn't go in there."

When Conrad and his wife look back on the years since his accident, they are amazed.

"It's like a miracle," Shirley Conrad said.

"Yeah, that's right," Conrad said.

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