REDONDO BEACH, CA –He awoke as firefighters carried him from his house, thick smoke lingering in the air as flames surrounded them. “You’re going to be okay,” a firefighter told him.
That day, 80 percent of Jeff Kuhn’s body was burned in a house fire, but he doesn’t remember much about it. He doesn’t remember the intense pain from his burns, or the sirens wailing as the ambulance rushed down the highway toward the hospital. But he does remember watching trees blur by, and the paramedics telling him they were there to help. Soon after, Kuhn was placed in a medically induced coma and stayed unconscious for nearly two months.
“My injury was so bad and so painful that I decided that I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone else in the world, not even my worst enemy,” Kuhn said.
Almost 25 years later, the South Bay local recounts his experiences overcoming his burn injuries and neuromuscular disease in his new book “Blue Sky Lightning: How To Survive And Thrive When Life Blindsides You.” In a world that can, at times, seem unforgiving, Kuhn shares what he’s learned from overcoming obstacles and getting over the “why me?” mindset – his outlook is a glimmer of hope amid grim circumstances.
After the house fire, Kuhn had 18 surgeries over the course of the following two years – the first two were while he was in a medically induced coma. When they pulled him out of a coma, things were “still pretty foggy,” he said. They gave him just enough painkillers to make it tolerable, and “spoon-fed” information to him about his injury to keep his spirits high, according to Kuhn.
“You’re in constant pain, but that’s your new normal,” he said. “They didn’t tell me much about my injury or how much of my body was burned, but I couldn’t move. I was covered head-to-toe in bandages, and I was immobile.”
His road to recovery was long and painful. When he finally returned home after the hospital, reality set in. He was so weak he couldn’t stand, he said. The first time he took a shower and saw what he looked like, he was stunned.
“It was the first time I saw myself without any bandages in a mirror. I looked at myself and I could not believe how bad I looked. I knew it wasn’t good, but it was 50 times worse than I thought,” he said.
He made a pact not to look at himself in a mirror, aside from eye contact, for an entire year because it didn’t help his recovery. He adopted the attitude “better me than anyone else,” which he kept on his mind in order to power through the pain. He took steps toward recovery because it was his only option.
Once Kuhn was able to walk, he started physical therapy at a public park and brought along his yellow Labrador retriever, Sparky, who was vital to his recovery.
“Sparky went with me and was by my side more than any living being. She was a Godsend,” he said. “She went in and out of the gates of hell with me many times and stayed by my side, even when I was completely bandaged up.”
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Just two years after his accident, Kuhn was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease and was forced to conjure the same willpower that helped him recover from his burn injuries in order to get over yet another life-changing hurdle.
Kuhn said after everything he’s been through, he’s lucky to be alive. Last year, he was finally ready to share about his experience and decided to write an article on LinkedIn, titled: “It’s Hard to Beat Someone Who Never Gives Up.”
The article was widely read, and Kuhn received plenty of encouragement from people around the world, he said. Burn victims, but also people with cancer and other ailments, reached out to him to let him know his story of hope and perseverance encouraged them to keep fighting. Kuhn was so inspired by the response his article had, he pursued his book. Months later, “Blue Sky Lightning” was born.
“I wrote the book to reach people who are suffering or fighting some sort of battle or adversity, in hopes that my book can help them,” he said. “I’m hoping that when I leave the planet, I’ll have made a difference in people’s lives.”
To learn more about Kuhn’s story and his book “Blue Sky Lightning,” visit his website.
All photos courtesy of Jeff Kuhn