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Specialized Treatment and Continuity of Care Put Firefighter on Path to Recovery

Volunteer firefighter Shawn Menear was trapped for 40 minutes in a burning home in Central Pennsylvania. What came after he survived is a remarkable journey of healing and support.

On a cold, dark night in late January 2022, Shawn Menear found himself in a firefighter’s worst nightmare. The 43-year-old volunteer firefighter was on the first floor of a burning home in rural Central Pennsylvania, when he heard voices call out a mayday. Three of his fellow firefighters were on the second floor above him and it was starting to collapse. Before he had a chance to react, a chimney fell on top of him, pinning him to the floor.

“It took 40 minutes to get me out of that house,” Menear recalls. “Looking at my legs that night, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”

Shawn Menear in his firefighting gear next to a firetruck

Photo Courtesy: Shawn Menear

Complex Injuries

Three months later, as Menear lay in a hospital bed at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital awaiting discharge, he thought about all that he had been through since that ill-fated night. His right leg was propped up in a sling and bandaged from his foot to his hips. He was wearing athletic shorts and the exposed skin on his left leg was marked with what looked like red brush strokes. That’s where healthy skin had been removed and graft to the more severely burned right leg.

“I suffered second and third degree burns,” Menear explains. “All of the nerves are pretty much damaged in my right leg.”

Menear was flown by helicopter to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on that January night. Dr. William B. Hughes, director of Jefferson Health’s Burn Center, led the team that treated Menear for severe burns on his legs and lower torso.

“These were deep contact burns that went through the muscle and even into the bone in some places,” explains Dr. Hughes. “Treating the wounds was very complex and quite a lot of work, not only for myself, but my entire team.”

That involved a meticulous process of removing the dead tissue then applying grafts of healthy skin from his left leg, while preventing infection and controlling the pain. Dr. Hughes assured Menear he would do everything he could to save the more badly burned right leg from amputation. As a result of their care, he made remarkable progress.

Wound Care and Physical Rehabilitation

Menear spent almost nine weeks recuperating at Jefferson’s Burn Center, then transferred to Magee where a multidisciplinary team of doctors, therapists, nurses, and wound care specialists created an individualized rehab plan to help him regain as much function as possible.

Shawn Menear recovering at Jefferson's Burn Center with visitor

Shawn Menear recovering at Thomas Jefferson University and receiving visitor and fellow firefighter Dave Smiley. Photo Courtesy: Shawn Menear

“Recovering from burns of that nature is painful, but Shawn was dedicated to putting in the work during rehab so he could get back to living his life,” explains Dr. Guy Fried, Magee’s chief medical officer.

During inpatient rehab, the goal of wound care is to support healing, promote nutrition, and educate patients and their families about wound treatment and prevention. Therapy sessions were designed to improve Menear’s strength and mobility in a way that didn’t make the wounds worse and prevented new wounds from occurring.

“Magee has been amazing,” Menear says. “They taught me how to walk again. We did strength exercises, because I am using a lot of my upper body. They got me prepared for everything. We did extensive work in physical and occupational therapy sessions and I will continue that as I go home.”

A Hero’s Send-Off

Three months is a long time to be hospitalized. Menear says he never imagined the overwhelming amount of cards, letters, gifts and phone calls with messages of encouragement and support, many from people he had never met. Those tokens of kindness helped him stay positive and hopeful.

“You really get to know people when you go through something like this,” Menear recalls. “The community has been behind me 100%.”

Menear’s uncle introduced him to the volunteer fire company as a teenager. As soon he was of age, he signed up to join that brotherhood of firefighters serving his hometown. More than two decades later, on the day of his inpatient discharge, firefighters, family and neighbors gathered on the sidewalk outside Magee. Fire trucks lined up along Philadelphia’s Race Street. They were all there in solidarity to show Menear how much his volunteer service has meant to them. When he exited the building in a wheelchair, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. There were also tears of happiness.

As Menear said goodbye to members of his Magee care team, a group of firefighters loaded up a car with his belongings and supplies needed to continue his care closer to home. Then the long line of fire trucks fired up their engines to escort Menear and his family on the 90-minute drive back to Central Pennsylvania.

Life at Home

Four months following his discharge, Menear continues to make progress with his recovery. He undergoes physical rehab three times a week locally and now is able to walk with cane without assistance.

“Every week I am feeling better and getting stronger,” he shares.

[Main photo credit: Courtesy Shawn Menear]

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