Eight burn survivors, some from the Valley, celebrated a long journey of recovery culminating with a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Describing the climb on Mt. Kilimanjaro, for Jason Nelson, is hard, "It's painful. It's exhilarating. It's maddening at times, you know, with step after step."
He says reaching the summit is amazing, "That's the only word I can think that describes it. It's truly amazing to stand there, especially with the group I was with."
In June, Nelson and seven other former Arizona Burn Center patients started the journey.
"We don't all live in Arizona, but we share one thing in common. We all went through the Arizona Burn Center,” added Nelson.
Nelson became a patient on February 9, 2014.
"The short version is I was in my garage. I lit a cigarette and there was a natural gas leak,” added Nelson.
The result, Nelson says, was a fireball that burned 80% of his body. He was burned from his knees to his ankle and from his waist to his face.
He and others in the group, like 12-year-old Isabella McCune, did the climb after raising money for a new burn center scheduled to open in 2023.
"It was really hard. The hike is a challenging hike. Training was challenging. Raising the money was challenging. Trying to get the word out was challenging,” said McCune.
The group of burn survivors took seven days to climb Africa's tallest mountain: 5.5 days up and 1.5 days down.
"We still kept pushing. We kept trying. We made it. We got to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. We all eight survivors got to go to the top,” added McCune.
As Nelson says, McCune agrees, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was amazing. But, some in the group didn't process it until the way down.
"It had been 3-4 hours, and everyone said look back, you look back and there is the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. You are like I was just standing at that point,” added Nelson.
Reaching the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro created an experience for Nelson. He certainly has a story to tell. But, the tattoos of the word survivor, a key with the number 80 in it and a clock on his body showing the time of 3:45 p.m. tells the most important part.
"I've got a clock with the time of my accident. So, the time I lit the cigarette, and it went boom,” added Nelson.