SEATTLE – The 25-year-old man severely injured in a Washington wildfire that killed three of his fellow firefighters left the hospital Wednesday after three months of treatment, but his recovery is far from complete.
Daniel Lyon, who suffered burns on more than 60 percent of his body Aug. 19, still hasn’t regained use of his hands, and it will take time to get his body functioning well enough to go back to work. He wears a facemask and other wraps to help his wounds heal.
The first day he got out of bed to take a walk – just over a month ago – was the moment he realized he was going to survive, Lyon said during a news conference at Harborview Medical Center, where he has undergone 11 surgeries.
Lyon has made a remarkable recovery, said Dr. Nicole Gibran, one of his attending physicians and director of the University of Washington Burn Center at Harborview. She cited his family’s constant support and the fact that his lung injury was not as severe as it could have been.
“His journey is not over,” Gibran said, describing the physical therapy he needs to continue. “He can anticipate a long road ahead.”
Lyon reached another milestone in his recovery Wednesday.
“It felt great walking outside today, feeling the fresh air,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back home, see my dog and to be more active.”
This summer was his first as a wildland firefighter. He previously worked as a reserve police officer and was an active skier, mountain climber, kayaker, motorcycle rider and hunter.
“Being outside is truly where I feel at home,” Lyon said.
Hospital visits from firefighters and police officers, as well as encouraging cards and letters from around the world were a big part of the reason he was able to get out of bed and make his way out of the hospital this week.
“That support has been truly the best therapy for me,” Lyon said.
He said he thinks constantly about his friends who died in the same flare-up near the north-central Washington community of Twisp: 20-year-old Tom Zbyszewski, 26-year-old Andrew Zajac and 31-year-old Richard Wheeler.
The quickly moving fire overtook their engine after it crashed down an embankment.
“Aug. 19 was definitely the scariest day of my life,” Lyon said. “Those guys were truly brothers to me.”
Lyon, who graduated from the police academy before taking the job as a wildland firefighter, said his goal is to return to law enforcement. He expressed a particular interest in working for the U.S. Forest Service in law enforcement.
“I can’t climb mountains right now, but I can climb hills,” he said.
His father, also Daniel Lyon, said he and his wife, Barbara, look forward to the day when he gets back to living his full life.
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