By Liana Jacob
THIS MAN took up bodybuilding to find love after he escaped a GAS EXPLOSION that left him with third degree burns covering 75 PERCENT of his body at the age of just 15.
In June 2000, investment advisor, Gary Hall (33), from New-Brunswick, Canada, was just 15-years-old, studying for exams with a friend and entered his basement where gasoline was stored when something caused it to explode, trapping them inside for several minutes.
Someone driving past in their car heard their screams and opened the door; Gary received severely burned hands and couldn’t open his left hand due to the melted skin that sealed it shut.
He was taken to the hospital after having second and third degree burns covering roughly 75 to 80 percent of his body. He was in the hospital for three-months.
He underwent numerous 180-hour-long surgeries such as; skin graft surgeries, escharotomy, gall bladder removal, scar contracture releases, z-plasty, laser treatments and many more.
Gary became insecure about his appearance and worried that girls would never fancy him, so he decided to work out to gain muscle and ‘give something else for people to stare at’.
He is now a professional bodybuilder in his spare time and has gained 3st 8Ib in muscle, winning a competition recently.
He now has a girlfriend, Jessica, who has impacted his life for the better as they build their life together.
With his girlfriend and his new body, he feels more confident than ever and aims to inspire and help other burn survivors to embrace their scars.
“My friend and I were studying for our grade nine exams in early June 2000. At some point we entered the basement where gasoline was stored, and something caused it to explode,” Gary said.
“We were blown up and trapped inside for several minutes until a car passing by heard and opened the door.
“I had severely burned lungs, smoke inhalation, along with second and third degree burns to roughly seventy-five to eighty percent of my body.
“As I was going in and out of consciousness on the lawn waiting for emergency services to show up, the last thing I remember was not being able to open my left hand as the skin had melted and slid down over my hand.
“I remember seeing flanks of blackened flesh hanging off of my leg in the ambulance and being in an extraordinary amount of pain.
“I remember they would pull me out of the induced coma slightly to do my bandages, so I wouldn’t bleed out and the wounds were extremely gruesome.
“Especially something called escharotomy which is where they sliced the full length of all four limbs twice to allow circulation due to extreme swelling.
“Some odd things that happened was realising that I hadn’t eaten or had a drink in weeks when I saw a McCain frozen juice commercial.
“I was on too many medications and couldn’t speak due to a tracheotomy to ask why I didn’t need anything to survive. I guess I didn’t notice all the tubes pumping into me.
“In the end I got out after about ninety days, I needed many surgeries to survive the acute phase along with many reconstructive surgeries as well.
“You have to wear incredibly tight and uncomfortable pressure suits for two years once your skin is healed as well.
“School was rough at first as I had no strength, no endurance, and was obviously stared at quite a lot. Learning to walk again, or to making sure I didn’t stop breathing again once I was taken off the ventilator was odd.
“I came out of the hospital at about four-stone four-pounds as a 15-year-old. My parents asked what I wanted when I got out and I asked for a home gym.
“I wanted to prove I could be strong again and give something else for people to stare at – hopefully some love-muscles.”
Over time Gary became a personal trainer, entered bodybuilding contests and built his body up with a weight of 10st 10Ibs.
He now has a girlfriend who he met in May 2018 and has supported him through his career.
“Jessica and I met at work and there was an instant connection but our lives brought us on two different paths for the next two years,” Gary said.
“Back in May we reconnected after living 1.5km apart and everything fell into place. She lives life at my pace and she lifts my happiness to new heights.
“When I think of doing anything in the future, she is right by my side. I think she would say she loves that I constantly challenge her, and she enjoys my dedication and drive to everything I do.
“I’m very proud to walk into a room with her and she makes my life that much sweeter. Working out certainly gave me more confidence back.
“I became a personal trainer and even taught boot camps and specialty fitness classes to educate others.
“I became quite good at public speaking. I was fortunate enough to be asked to mentor other burn survivors which was very fulfilling.
“Recovery was long and mentally more challenging then the initial survival period. It lasted over six years and I still deal with daily things no one even knows about as it’s just me and I can choose to smile about it and push on.
“Overall, I feel phenomenal; I’m healthy, truly happy, successful, I have great friends, a girlfriend, and the future is bright.
“Bodybuilding has quickened the return of my confidence, posture, strength, balance, it’s flattened scars from sub cutaneous pressure (much like the external suits I had to wear).
“I’ve entered two shows; one in 2006 and one in 2018. I won five first place trophies in 2006 and one first place trophy just a few weeks ago.
“I’ve learned patience mostly in those few initial years. I took care of myself as a 15-year-old already. I worked out and practised martial arts.
“I suppose I’ve spent more time reflecting on where I’ve been, where I want to go, who I want to help, how I want to get there and how to do all of his better and more efficiently.”
Despite living with the pain of seeing his family cry over his ordeal, Gary support he has received from family and friends have helped him stay strong.
“Watching my immediate family cry at my physical pain. If they only knew that I’d take it all over again, so they wouldn’t have to as it wasn’t so bad for me. Maybe they’d smile and say. He’s got this,” Gary said.
“Rarely do I ever get negative comments and when I do, I genuinely feel bad for the person who’s said them.
“We have a choice at how we perceive things, after our mental shortcuts have instinctively processed something.
“For the most part I get extremely positive comments; things I’m not even comfortable saying as it would feel self-glorifying.
“Most of the time, people say incredibly humbling things to me and about how it affects them in a positive way.
“I have one life here and I have no regrets. I put a lot into my career, I travel, I take care of myself physically and mentally, I’m there for friends and family and my community.
“My advice to others is to know that you have survived something so challenging, everything’s else will be that much easier if you reflect on what it took to get through it and apply it going forward.
“You didn’t choose this, but it did, so accept it, embrace it and use it. You have a choice at how to move forward and I can promise you I’ve become a better person in every sense post-accident.”