Burn victim Derek Thomas bids farewell to caregivers who saved his life
Nearly 300 people in Encinitas on Tuesday afternoon welcomed home Derek Thomas, a 19-year-old who was given a 1% chance to live after he was badly burned in a car crash a year ago.
More than 85% of Thomas' body was burned in the crash near Bishop, Calif., that killed four people, including his girlfriend, and injured 15 others.
The crowd of friends from high school, church and the local YMCA where he used to work lined the driveway at Scripps Rehabilitation Services, where Thomas is expected to continue physical therapy for at least a few more weeks.
Upon Thomas’ 2 p.m. arrival from the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center they began cheering, shaking pom poms and waving signs: We love you D-Rock! I am not a body. I am a soul!
Earlier, at the burn center, Thomas met with some of his rescuers for the first time: the men who helped him right after the wreck, emergency room personnel and the medical staff who flew him via emergency jet to Los Angeles.
During his 11-month stay at Grossman he underwent 42 surgeries and had to have every inch of his burned skin scraped off. Much of the staff was in tears Monday night as they wished him farewell with a pot luck of homemade dishes, including some of Derek's favorites.
At around 10 a.m. Tuesday he sat in a chair flashing a victorious smile during a news conference. He rose briefly to speak to a room full of reporters.
"There are times when you’re going to be down and you’re going to think that there’s nothing in you that can keep on going," he said. "But if you have faith and you believe you’re not alone, then you’ll come out on top."
-- Esmeralda Bermudez
Photo: Derek Thomas says goodbye to Nurse Trish Slaten and other members of the hospital staff before leaving for his home in Encinitas. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times