EXCLUSIVE: Severely-burned Bay Area man with 20% chance to live makes miraculous recovery

It took four months and nine surgeries to get to this point, including one rare innovative procedure.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- A Sunnyvale man risked his life to put out a fire that he said was burning near a school.

He suffered severe burns and doctors said he had very little chance to live, but he survived.

At Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, 53-year-old Rogelio Garcia is taking his road to recovery one step at a time.

We have translated his interview with us.

"I'm very thankful for all the hospital has done," Garcia said.

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Garcia was rescued by firefighters after trying to put out a fire himself burning near a school in November 2021.

"I began to take off my boots and I had my bag and I tried to put out the fire with my jacket but I couldn't. Then I heard a voice saying, 'he is burning, he is burning'. After that, I don't remember anything until I got here to the hospital."

Garcia suffered severe burns to more than 60 percent of his body.

His doctors say odds were stacked against him.

"His legs in particular, we'd say fourth or fifth degree," SCVMC Burn Unit Attending Surgeon Dr. Cliff Sheckter said. "He was burned all the way down to the bone. His chances of surviving this injury were at best 20% and not only has Rogelio survived, but as you can see, he's able to walk with assistance."

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It took four months and nine surgeries to get to this point, including one rare innovative procedure.

Doctors used an Epicell treatment to grow more than 5,000 square centimeters of new skin from Garcia's remaining unburned skin.

"We actually sent a small biopsy of his skin to a laboratory that is able to grow massive sheets of it," Dr. Sheckter said. "This was able to facilitate healing the majority of his burns."

Garcia is enjoying the little things in life, including a real meal after weeks on a liquid diet.

He told us he was so happy to eat a lengua burrito with salsa and a very delicious Coca-Cola.

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It was a small reward for months of battle and fight.

"All the technology we have, all the care, all the rehabilitative services don't work if the patient doesn't want to see it through, but he did," Dr. Sheckter said.

"Being able to see him walk and be able to go up and downstairs, he's achieving his goals and overcoming obstacles," SCVMC Physical therapist Debbie Sifuentes said.

"Now I understand all the process they did so I can to be good again and I am very grateful to all at the Santa Clara hospital team," Garcia said.

Even after only being given a 20% chance to live, Tuesday he is going home.

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