Being thankful this holiday season has new meaning for dozens of Wisconsin families whose children were injured in a bonfire explosion.
At least 40 young people in the Village of Pulaski were hurt when an accelerant was thrown on a bonfire during a party after a Pulaski High School football game on Oct. 14. At least 10 teenagers suffered critical burns.
According to the Shawano County Sheriff’s Office, two teens and a parent could face criminal charges. The investigation into what happened is still ongoing.
The majority of those injured are now recovering at home. Many of them will have to return to the hospital for future skin graft surgeries.
Two of the injured teens remain at the Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center in Milwaukee. TMJ4 News talked with one of their parents about the healing process.
“It really was a nightmare,” said Bruce Brzeczkowski.
Bruce and his wife Tammy have struggled to watch their youngest son Brandon, 18, battle through intense pain and surgeries. He suffered burns all over his body, and on his face.
“This is a very slow and painful process,” said Tammy.
“The people here – the doctors and nurses – are unbelievable people,” Bruce said. “They are angels in my eyes.”
As parents, they wish they could trade places with Brandon.
His first scribbled message to them in the hospital, when he had tubes in his mouth and nose, was a heartbreaking “I want to go home.”
“I’ve learned how incredibly strong my son is,” said Bruce. “He’s a strong kid and has made us all stronger through this.”
Nearly seven weeks after the bonfire explosion, Brandon’s face is healing well. He’s trying to move more.
“It’s really hard to tell if the skin graft is taking on his legs,” said Tammy. “It’s looking like he’ll have to have another surgery. He has a hard time sleeping. Mentally, sitting by himself in that hospital bed is hard for him. It’s going to take some time emotionally too.”
“I think all of the kids that were injured have been asking themselves why this had to happen to them,” said Bruce. “They get angry and upset. The good part is they’re going to get back and heal.”
Benjamin Van Asten is the only other bonfire explosion victim still in the hospital. He is in a room down the hall from Brandon. Ben was knocked unconscious and his clothes caught fire.
Their families bring them mementos from friends and family back home in Pulaski.
“People we don’t even know have dropped things off on our doorstep,” said Tammy. “We’ve gotten letters of support from strangers in different states. We read them all.”
“It reminds us there are a lot of good people out there in the world after such a bad experience,” said Tammy.
They’re holding on to that realization, and the miracle that their child - and everyone injured, survived. They are all expected to make full recoveries in time.
Here is a list of the fundraiser set up for victims: