When Martinez awoke after three weeks, his mother was at his side. He had lost parts of his ears. He had fractures in his face, arm, leg and rib; and his lungs were damaged from inhaling smoke and debris.
"My mother is unbelievable," Martinez said. "She's the best tool I have to chisel away at life. If there is an iceberg in front of me, she's the one I can count on to help me knock that iceberg down."
Renz met Martinez that summer. Martinez never complained, Renz said.
"He is one of the finest human beings I've ever met," Renz said. "Since the war began, we have been privileged to meet over 900 men injured in the line of duty, not exactly like J.R. but in similar ways. We are continuously astounded by their spirit and the fact they can overcome such devastating injuries, and not only overcome it, but do really well."
Burns can be terribly painful, and so is the treatment. Surgeons often use skin grafts, in which a 0.25 millimeter-thick layer of skin from an unburned portion of the body is removed and placed over the burned area. "Most patients say the donor site hurts worse than the burned site," Renz said.
And as it heals, the skin tightens and needs to be stretched, which also hurts. Even when it heals, grafted skin is more delicate, prone to injury and itching.
"A burn injury is a lifelong injury. It never really goes away," Renz said. "There is nothing about a burn wound that is easy or simple. It's all problems and it's all painful."
For Martinez, even as he began to heal physically, emotionally he was devastated. Most comfortable at the burn ward where everyone knew and accepted him, Martinez began hanging around there, running errands and helping out.
One sunny day, a nurse asked Martinez to check in on an
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