Valley boy spent nearly a year recovering after suffering heat-related illness while hiking

Posted at 8:29 PM, Jul 25, 2016

Alicia Andazola cried when she about a 12-year-old boy who collapsed and died while hiking in the heat last week.   

It was 11 months ago when Andazola almost lost her own teenage son to a hot desert hiking trail.

"We started off and it was hot outside about half way up my legs and my whole body just felt hot," recalled Joey Azuela of last August when he and his dad set out hiking in the heat of the day. Both felt they had plenty of water. 

"By the time I got to the top, I felt dizzy. My dad thought because he was fine, I was fine. Because we had the same amount of water I was fine, but I wasn't able to hold up on the mountain."

Joey said he told his father he was feeling ill and took time out to rest under a shaded tree. But heat illness had already settled in and Joey remembers very little after that. 

"I remember nothing coming down, I can remember a few steps and then nothing else until I got to the bottom. I remember seeing this car and saying I'm almost there... an then it was just black," said Joey.

The pavement Joey collapsed on was so hot, he suffered 2nd degree burns over his legs and arms where his skin touched the concrete. 

His body temperature had rose to almost 108 degrees Fahrenheit when rescue crews airlifted him to a nearby trauma center. 

When Alicia got the call from her ex-husband, she couldn't believe what was happening. 

"It became a lot more real very quickly, I walk in and...he's there and there's ice all over him. They had a machine taking his blood out and cooling it and putting it back in his body. His dad was on the floor just crying," recalled Alicia of that first moment when she saw Joey in the hospital.

Alicia said doctors feared Joey had suffered brain damage from the heat. Luckily, that wasn't the case.  

It took Joey 10 months to heal from his injuries. He was unable to attend school and had to take special showers while his mom nursed his burns. 

"I didn't realize how long it would take for it to heal," said Alicia.

They agreed to tell their story as a way to bring awareness to the dangers of hiking in the heat.  

Both say it is too easy to hit the trails without knowing what dangers lay ahead, and both say they could easily have been the family of a 12-year-old boy who recently died on a desert trail. 

Joey has no desire to ever hike again.

"I'm just so thankful that he made it through. He's a miracle," said a grateful Alicia with watery eyes.