By Liana Jacob
THIS MODEL was left feeling like a ‘MONSTER’ after FIFTY PERCENT of his body was burned in a house fire that prompted kids to call him the ‘DEVIL’ but now credits his girlfriend for feeling ‘attractive again’ after his ordeal.
In 2013, entrepreneur, model and actor, Jonathan Ramirez (30), from California, USA, was acting and modelling in Los Angeles and was even chosen to appear in a Nicki Minaj video as a barber whose shop burned down.
Just a few months after the music video was released, he was at his friend’s house when suddenly it went up in flames. It was due to his friend leaving the air conditioner on, causing a spark of electricity. The next thing he knew, he woke up two months later in the hospital from being in a coma after having over 10 surgeries including skin grafts and heart and lung procedures.
On his last day at the hospital, a nurse reluctantly gave him a mirror and when he looked at himself, he was shocked and started crying because he felt like a monster.
Jonathan spent the next year learning how to walk, talk, move his arms, feed himself, drive and he spent 23-hours-a-day wearing a compression suit that covered his entire body, as well as a compression mask that only had holes for his eyes, nostrils and mouth.
Despite getting through the physical aspects of his recovery, his mental healing took longer to process, as he would cry about his looks all day and every day. He was called ‘the devil’ by children who saw him and many other nasty comments from strangers about his appearance that left him feeling crushed.
In 2014, he met his now girlfriend, Diksha, who would end up healing his broken heart. For years, he has been alienated by strangers for his appearance, but after meeting her, he felt attractive again and now wants to help other survivors to feel beautiful.
“I grew up with an extremely loving and hard-working family in a very violent city full of guns, gangs, and drugs,” Jonathan said.
“After years of being around all those bad things, a light went off in my head and I knew I needed to get out of Salinas.
“So, with no plan, I packed a bag and moved to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, I started modelling and acting while working at a hotel and restaurant.
“It was 2013, and I was living the life. I was an actor and model in Los Angeles. I was getting great jobs, networking and meeting all kinds of people.
“I had just done a music video with Nicki Minaj for her song “The Boys” about a fire and a barber shop – little did I know that video was actually foreshadowing what was about to happen in my life
“It was a Monday night and before I knew what was happening, the house went up in flames.
“I found myself trapped in a burning room, on fire for over a minute. In that time, I literally stood in front of a mirror watching my skin slide off of me.
“My whole life flashed before my eyes, but something in me made me fight to get out. The last thing I remember was hearing multiple explosions as we were running out of the house.
“I woke up in the hospital two months later, with memory loss, and loss of all my motor functions.
“I awoke to a room full of people I didn’t know. I couldn’t move or do anything for myself. I had tubes everywhere. I knew it was bad. My mum was by my side. Fifty percent of my body was burned. I was questioning my life.
“Though I was extremely thankful to be alive, the recovery process was worse than being trapped in that burning house.
“Once I was out of the coma, the hardest part of the recovery process began; I had to work so hard to get my memory back and learn how to walk and talk again.
“I found myself feeling like I had become someone’s problem and I felt so helpless. My mum had to quit her job and basically moved into the hospital with me.
“She had to learn how to clean my wounds, apply medication, and basically be my nurse after I was released from the hospital. I moved back home to Salinas and continued the recovery process there.
“When I was in the hospital, I remember the nurses wouldn’t let me see my face in a mirror until the last day I was there.
“When I finally saw how I looked, I instantly burst into tears because I felt like a monster. I didn’t even recognise myself. My mum, by my side, began sobbing. It is a moment I will never forget.
“I felt like my life was over, but I had to remind myself that what I was feeling was temporary and that my life would not end like that.”
Re-joining society after his ordeal, was difficult for Jonathan as he struggled to come to terms with his appearance, which was made worse by the comments he received.
“People made a lot of comments when they saw my skin, but one particular incident/comment that I remember vividly was when a little kid looked at me and ran to his parents calling me the devil,” he said.
“This comment came at a time when I was still getting used to how I looked, and the comment really crushed me.
“I endured constant ridicule when I left the house. I cried all day, every day. I felt ugly, hopeless. Ready to give up.
“I spent the next year learning how to walk, talk, move my arms and learning all motor skills again, how to feed myself, how to drive, learning how to breathe and maintain my body temperature without passing out.
“I had to be taken care of twenty-four-hours-a-day – I had to be bathed, fed, clothed, and cared for around the clock.
“When I was finally able to walk, talk, and care for myself, I began applying for jobs, but no one would hire me because of the way I looked. I felt like an animal.
“I was doing physical therapy four-days-a-week and spend the rest of the days looking at old pictures of myself.
“My recovery process was slow and painful. I had a lot of restless nights with lots of nightmares. It was an emotional roller coaster.
“My mum had to scrub my skin to make room for ‘new’ skin by using a metal sponge. I would bleed so much that it looked like the scene of a murder.
“The six months I was at home, I felt like such a burden on my parents. I saw how much they were hurting seeing me the way I was.
“I knew I had to move back out to try to spare them the heartache, and I did exactly that the second I was able to walk, eat, and shower on my own. Now, I am thriving.”
Jonathan now says that he has built two barber businesses that have helped him get on his feet and become self-sufficient.
“I have two barber shops that are doing great, and I am able to travel and empower other survivors. I feel like I am becoming the best version of myself,” he said.
“My mum has been my biggest supporter; she quit her job to take care of me. She reminded me of who I was and that everything was going to be okay.
“She didn’t give up on me, despite seeing me in my worst state. My girlfriend is also someone who has helped me recover.
“We met after my accident, but she never made me feel like I looked different. She made me feel normal in a time when I felt like a monster. To this day, she says she doesn’t even see my scars.
“I thought no one would ever be attracted to me or love me again. In more ways than she will ever know, she has shown me how to love again, including how to love myself.
“This is something that I will always be grateful to her for. She reminds me every chance she gets that I get to live this incredible second chance at life and that I get to help so many people who find themselves as lost as I was.
“Remember that everything is temporary. We are alive and got a second chance for a reason. You are beautiful, despite your scars, and you are still you.”