Student who set himself on fire cooking fried chicken felt his skin ‘melting’ during freak accident


Gage suffered third-degree burns after a freak accident cooking fried chicken (Picture: MDWfeatures)

A student felt his skin melt after accidentally setting himself on fire while cooking fried chicken – leaving him with third-degree burns over 25% of his body.

Gage Hopkins, 21, from Pennsylvania had the freak accident at his apartment at Arizona State University and it has left him with PTSD.

On 26 May, the political science student and his roommate were cooking fried chicken but forgot about the oil they had left in a pot on the stove. 

Disaster ensued when they noticed that black smoke was rising from the lid.

Gage instinctually removed the lid and a flame erupted in his face.

The student caught fire and he felt his hands melting into the pot’s handles.

The situation was made even worse when Gage tripped over a trashcan and poured the remainder of the burning oil down his legs, which also caught fire. 

Gage explained: ‘As soon as I grabbed the pot, the flame was in my face. My shirt caught fire. I felt my neck burning.

‘The skin on my hands was melting to the metal handles of the pot, and at that point, I knew I made a huge mistake.’

Gage spent five weeks in hospital (Picture: MDWfeatures)

Looking at himself in his bathroom mirror, Gage realised just how serious the situation was.

The cooking oil had caused his skin to melt away, leaving open wounds and blisters all over his body, with his legs being the worst affected.

‘I was screaming to my roommate to help in pain, but my vision was black and I could not see,’ he said.

‘Honestly, I believe by seeing what my skin looked like kept me awake and alert because I knew if I were to blackout, I would be in much more danger.’

While his roommate called emergency services, Gage made his way out of their apartment to avoid smoke inhalation.

He added: ‘I thought I was in a dream, I couldn’t believe what was going on, my heart was racing, I was dizzy, and I knew my body was losing a lot of water.

‘All I remember after that is being taken outside in one hundred plus degree weather with the sun beaming down onto me, being put into the back of the ambulance.’

Gate was taken to the Burns ICU at Valleywise Medical Centre in Phoenix, where he awoke to a nurse feeling his feet and telling a doctor that he was losing circulation in his left leg.

‘A doctor came in with a clipboard and a paper asking for my permission to amputate my left leg. Without hesitation, I checked off the “no” box and broke down,’ he recalled. 

Fortunately, the medical staff was able to return circulation to his leg by cleaning the wound thoroughly.

Over the next three days, Gage underwent four skin grafts on his legs, arms, and face using skin from his thighs. 

‘Dressing changes were by far the most painful thing I have experienced besides being burned. I would never wish what happened to me on anyone,’ he said. 

Though he is recovering physically, Gage has been left with PTSD (Picture: MDWfeatures)

After five weeks, Gage was discharged and returned home to Pennsylvania where he continues his outpatient rehab and undergoes physical therapy.

Now Gage experiences daily nerve pain, severe itching, and discomfort from his tightened skin.

While the physical symptoms of the burns are gradually getting better, the psychological effects of the traumatic accident have stayed.

He said: ‘My psychiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder and it’s been hard both on me, my family, and my girlfriend,’ said Gage, who now suffers from panic attacks. 

‘I always ask myself “why did I grab the pot? What would have happened if I just pushed the pot off the heat? Why didn’t my roommate react?”. My nightmares also get to me but I have to learn to deal with them.’

Despite the horrific accident that has left him with life-long changes, Gage is still trying to be positive about his situation.  

‘Being down and negative throughout this situation would have been the worst thing for me because it would have shown that I’m not grateful for being alive today.’

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