Burn survivor leaves hospital after 264 days

Published 12:50 pm Saturday, July 4, 2015

ST. PAUL — An Oak Park Heights man who survived being badly burned in a lawnmower explosion was discharged Friday after 264 days in Regions Hospital, but not before his caregivers gathered to say farewell to one of their favorite patients.

She Yan Chen, 61, was burned over more than 70 percent of his body last October when the gasoline he was using to fill a riding lawnmower inside his garage exploded. Doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of survival at the time.

Chen underwent several skin grafts and 15 surgeries in all. Both his pinky fingers were amputated. He nearly died in January after developing a perforated stomach ulcer and slipping into a coma a week later.

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When he stepped out of the elevator on his way back from physical therapy on Thursday, he got a surprise greeting from more than 50 hospital employees, some carrying posters, balloons and streamers.

“He is a miracle,” nurse Sherry Schaefer said. “We don’t do this for everybody, but he’s been in here since October. He’s a very sweet guy.”

Chen’s recovery was complicated because so much of his body was burned, said David Ahrenholz, co-director of Regions Burn Center.

“We used all of the unburned parts of his body (to harvest skin grafts), and there weren’t that many — some patches on his thighs and some on his back, but it was very difficult,” Ahrenholz said.

Chen’s family credited the Regions staff for his survival.

“They never gave up on my dad,” said Lynn Chen of Oak Park Heights. “That means a lot to us. Truly, it’s been amazing.”

Chen, who emigrated to the U.S. from China in 1993, thanked his doctors and nurses.

“Everybody is so helpful and so concerned and cares,” he said through an interpreter. “I feel so glad, so happy to see so many people. (But) I’m looking forward to going home. I miss my children.”

For now, Chen is working on improving his mobility. He was a chef at Mr. Chow Chinese Restaurant in Stillwater but likely will be unable to work again, daughter Shi Qin Chen said.

“He can’t sweat, so, more than likely, he’s not going to be able to go into the kitchen for any long period of time,” he said.

Attending physician Steven Jackson said Chen’s ability “to overcome huge obstacles along the way is a testament to his character, as well as the support from family and friends.”

Nurses Jody Rood and Michelle Foss said Chen impressed all of the nurses with his good cheer.

“You’d walk by his room, and he’d always be smiling and waving,” Foss said.