OREGON – An Oregon man severely burned last summer while working on a demolition derby car will be back in the race Saturday at the Ogle County Fair.
Thomas Jones, 26, a volunteer firefighter, had third-degree burns over 85 percent to 90 percent of his body after the Aug. 20 explosion and fire.
He spent months in a hospital and a rehabilitation center, followed by weeks of intense physical therapy. Now Jones said he is glad to be back doing what he enjoys, working on another car to drive at the fair.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” he said last week.
Getting the car ready has made Jones feel more like he is back to normal. “It makes me feel a lot more back to where I was before the accident.”
Jones was working on a demo derby car in the detached garage behind the home where he lives with his parents, Mick and Penny Jones, and was using a torch to cut the straps holding the gas tank when it exploded.
Neighbors said Jones was engulfed in fire when one of them grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around him to extinguish the flames.
He was airlifted to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford in critical condition.
His fiancée, Chelsy Janssen, 23, of Mount Morris, also was burned when she tried to help him. She was released from the hospital a few days later.
The garage was destroyed, and the house sustained fire, water, and smoke damage.
Jones was in St. Anthony 3 months, undergoing numerous skin grafts and battling infections. Then he went to a rehabilitation center in Chicago for a month, arriving back home a few days before Christmas.
Family, friends, and well-wishers lined the streets of Oregon to welcome him back, and he had a fire department escort.
“I really appreciate the people of Oregon,” Jones said. “It made me feel real good to see the town behind me when I came home.”
Once home, he still faced 4 months of physical therapy.
At every step, however, he surprised doctors by hitting his recovery goals sooner than expected.
“I only needed about half of what they thought I would,” he said.
“He’s a very determined young man,” his mother said with a smile.
His doctor has released him to resume normal activities, and Jones is looking for a job. He worked at E.D. Etnyre Co. in Oregon before the accident.
“I’m doing well. I’m able to do pretty much everything I could before,” he said.
He and Jannsen are planning to marry in July, he said.
“I want to continue on with life and get back to all the plans I had before this happened.”