Through adversity, evidence of true character

Harford Tech's Brandon Jones, badly burned two years ago, is honored for his courage

June 04, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To say that Brandon Jones was surprised when he received the Principal's Award at Harford Technical High School's senior awards banquet Wednesday is a gross understatement. In fact, he was overwhelmed.

And when his classmates gave him a standing ovation upon hearing his named announced as recipient of the award, he was even more moved.

"What a way to leave high school," the 18-year-old Havre de Grace resident said. "I won't ever forget how awesome I felt seeing my classmates clapping and cheering for me."

His classmates knew the long and difficult road Brandon traveled to be standing before them. Just more than two years ago, Brandon was severely burned and nearly died when the outfit he was wearing during a paintball game caught fire.

An arduous recovery was followed by the long effort to regain his footing in his personal life, catching up with his classmates academically and attempting to resume playing sports - all the while coping with the disfigurement that resulted from the accident.

"Brandon is a true example of courage and bravery," said Charles Hagan, principal at Harford Technical High School.

In February 2004, Jones and friends were in the woods playing paintball to celebrate his 16th birthday.

Jones - who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 260 pounds - lighted a smoke bomb that he planned to lob toward opposing players to screen himself. But the bomb sparked on his right wrist and the camouflage suit he was wearing caught fire.

"The gun caught on fire, and I tried to put that out," he said. "I tried rolling on the ground and my friends were throwing snow on me. But it kept burning."

His father, Scott Jones, arrived at the scene.

"I thought the woods were on fire," said the elder Jones, a 47-year-old truck driver. "Then I realized it was a person and then I realized it was Brandon."

Scott Jones ran to his son and put the flames out with his hands.

"I wasn't thinking at the time," he said. "I was running on adrenaline I think."

Scott Jones pulled what remained of the camouflage suit off his son, who walked out of the woods under his own power.

The cold breeze on the burns caused excruciating pain, Scott Jones said.

"I knew his injuries were bad, but not as bad as they were," he said.

Brandon was taken by ambulance to the burn center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. His mother met them there.

"When I first saw him at the hospital, he apologized to me right away," Cindy Jones said. "He was telling me not to cry."

Doctors put Brandon into a medically induced coma before coming out to talk with his parents.

"They told us that the next 48 hours would be touch-and-go," his mother said. "He had sustained third-degree burns on about 40 percent of his body."

After tending Brandon's wounds, the medical staff tried to explain to the Joneses what they would see when they entered their son's room. But his mother said nothing could prepare them for Brandon's appearance.

Brandon's head was significantly swollen and all of his facial hair had been shaved. His body was bloated and covered with bandages.

"When we went into his room, they told us that he could hear us, but that he couldn't speak," Cindy Jones said. "He communicated with us. He would shake his leg, to get me to scratch it for him."

After spending 21 days in a coma, Brandon awoke.

"They said that his good physical condition was probably what saved him," Cindy Jones said. "He was into weightlifting and played lacrosse."

But Brandon was not the same.

"He spoke but in a low monotone voice," Cindy Jones said. "None of his personality was in his voice. It was very strange."

His parents weren't sure what Brandon would think the first time he looked in a mirror.

"I have never cared too much about appearance," Brandon said. "It took me a while to adjust to it. But I didn't get upset when I saw my face."

Eighteen days after he awoke, he was transferred to the AI duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. A rigorous rehabilitation followed.

"I was like an infant," Brandon said. "I had to learn to feed myself and bathe all over again. It made me realize how much we take for granted and how quickly it can all be taken away."

Although his progress seemed slow, Brandon did better than expected. His mother attributes his speedy recovery to his determination. For example, when he arrived, he couldn't feed himself. The staff pushed Brandon to take on as much as he could and at times he was irked that he didn't get more help eating.

"They insisted at the rehabilitation center that if Brandon was going to eat, he had to feed himself," his mother said. "He got down to 160 pounds. But eventually he did it."

His parents brought his lacrosse stick to the hospital and put it in a corner to help motivate him. His doctors told him he would never play lacrosse or paintball again.

"That really upset him and he refused to accept it," Cindy Jones said.

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