McCLELLANDTOWN (AP) — A southwestern Pennsylvania gym teacher has returned to work less than nine months after 70 percent of his body was burned when a pan of grease exploded on his kitchen stove.
George Franks III, 32, said that before returning to Albert Gallatin North Middle School, south of Pittsburgh, he worked hard at getting better. He was told after the accident that he might not survive.
“I pushed myself. I didn’t sit around,” Franks said. “It happened. I thought, ‘What can I do to get better?’”
Franks was getting ready to saut￩ some chicken when the grease exploded Jan. 11. He tried to run, but slipped on the grease and was badly burned on most of his body except for his right arm and back. He spent more than 50 days in the hospital, and had six major surgeries, plus skin grafts.
When he’s at school, compression garments on his legs, left arm and right hand are the only visible signs of his injuries. The garments help his body heal. And he continues physical therapy regularly.
“Even before this, if you told him he couldn’t do something, he’d prove you wrong,” said Jeremy Keefer, a friend and fellow gym teacher. “He never gives up.”
Franks said that his recovery was slow and painful and that many of the things he can now do he’s only been able to do in the last few weeks.
“I couldn’t bend down and touch my toes two months ago. Now I can do a full squat,” Franks said. Even before he officially returned in August, Franks walked into the school for a visit in June, before the last academic year ended.
“The students loved it,” Principal Randy Wilson said. “Georgie is beloved here. There is no doubt about it. He’s a great role model and caring and energetic.”
Neighbors Don Albani and his daughter, Katelynn, were the first to help Franks that night.
He credits them with much of his recovery. Don Albani threw wet towels on the flames to help extinguish the kitchen fire.
“I was worried about infection,” he said. “I was watching the skin roll off his legs like candle wax. I was just praying.”
Franks said those prayers have been answered, though there’s more recovery ahead.
“I told them, ‘I’ll be back in the fall,’” Franks said. “I did it.”