SEBRING — Gauge Grantham considers himself lucky, and blessed.
The 13-year-old spent a week in Tampa General Hospital after a second-hand fireworks mortar exploded in front of him, burning his chest, neck and face and leaving debris in his eyes.
Wednesday night found him back home in DeSoto City with family, still bandaged on his neck where the aerial bomb had burned him the worst and wearing wrap-around sunglasses to protect his eyes, still sore from surgery and still carrying a lot of debris, his family said.
The homecoming gave him a chance, also, to thank paramedics and emergency medical technicians who arrived last Thursday to treat him and transport him to Highlands Regional Medical Center for the 22-minute flight to Tampa.
His mother, Brandy Grantham, rode with his grandfather the two hours to Tampa to catch up with him.
“It seemed like eight hours,” Brandy Grantham said.
Wednesday, after two surgeries to clean out his eyes, he opened his eyes for the first time since the explosion, she said. He said he could see clearly, but she said doctors told her they couldn’t get everything out and the incident scarred his corneas as much as it did his face and chest.
It all came from an old fireworks item, no larger than an apple, family said, that turned out to be more dangerous than it looked. He reportedly thought it was a smoke bomb.
His grandmother, Sara Gilbreath, said it was 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 8, when Gauge dug a hole in the yard, dropped in the fireworks item that he had and lit it. He didn’t know it was a mortar shell firework.
Licensed commercial fireworks dealers display such shells as being a small ball perched atop of a small cylinder. The shell goes into the bottom of a long tube pointed upward, and the shell has a long fuse for safety reasons.
The bottom part is a lift charge that propels it into the air. Once there, a secondary charge explodes it to release the effects normally seen with celebration display fireworks on holidays and at amusement parks.
Gauge’s twin sister, Raina, remembered hearing two explosions. She was home at the time, along with their mother and grandparents. Gilbreath described a roar like a cannon. Allie Slager, a family friend at a nearby ball field, said it sounded like a gun.
Then they heard Gauge screaming. They ran outside to see him picking himself up off the ground, leaning over slightly, yelling that he couldn’t see. His dark blue T-shirt was burnt away around his chest and neck where he had second- and third-degree burns.
Raina called 911. Gauge tried to flush his eyes with the kitchen sink sprayer until the 911 dispatcher told them to put a wet washcloth over his face and have him stay calm.
Shortly after that, Highlands County Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services arrived. Paramedic Medical Supervisor Karin Richardson responded with fellow Paramedics Brody Carr and Daniel Ciorrocco and Emergency Medical Technicians Bryan Sands and John Poynor, who stabilized him for the trip to Tampa.
Wednesday night, the five rescuers took the chance to meet up with Gauge again, under better circumstances. Gauge had a hard time putting his feelings in words, but expressed gratitude that they had helped him out and taken take of him.
“They took good care of him,” Brandy Grantham said.
Treatments from hospital doctors and nurses reduced what could have been several weeks or months down to a week. They were able to avoid skin grafts, too, but the debris in his eyes will have to work its way out.
“He’s still got a ways to go,” Brandy Grantham said.
Though he didn’t talk much about it Wednesday night, both mother and grandmother said Gauge has talked about doing a public safety presentation at his school to warn fellow students not to get, play with, light or even be near fireworks.