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Senior Class - Week 44. Burning Desire
George Pessotti was 31 years old, lying on his back and shouting to his wife, Anne, “Are the kids safe? Are they out of the house?”
Every window on the first floor had blown out. Flames engulfed the Westford, Mass. home. The explosion also set George Pessotti on fire.
The year was 1979. It was a typical Saturday afternoon in May. If not for the heroics of a stranger, Pessotti may not be alive today.
“Bill MacMillian was the man that saved my life that day,” Pessotti, now 62, recalls.
MacMillian was an off-duty EMT and sprayed Pessotti down with a hose. He removed Pessotti's rings and necklace from burning his skin further. He stripped off his polyester socks to keep them from melting to his feet. Next, he placed wet gauze in Pessotti's mouth to prevent his throat from swelling. Pessotti lay naked on the lawn while a wet sheet was placed over him until an ambulance arrived. For the next few hours, Pessotti's life hung in a balance.
He had been stripping dried glue using gasoline as a solvent. His two sons were playing in a sandbox out back and his wife Anne was mowing the lawn in the front. Pessotti wasn't being careless. He had windows and the front door open to keep the area ventilated. However, he did not realize the fumes could travel to the kitchen's pilot light and ignite.
“I knew I had burnt myself badly,” Pessotti said. “At Lowell General, they were sticking pins in my body, and I remember the doctor had a chart of my body and he was trying to determine the extent of my burns. If I could feel a pin prick, that meant a second degree burn, which meant the nerve endings were exposed and that was actually a good sign … well, by the time the doctor did his chart, I didn't feel an awful lot of pin pricks, so I knew I was in trouble.”
Pessotti awoke the next day in critical condition, but his eyes were swollen shut. He was taken to Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Mass., and given a 10 percent chance to live. “Those might be your odds, but they aren't mine,” Pessotti told the doctor. He was determined to prove the odds wrong.
“I attribute my survival to hard work, perseverance, following the doctor's orders and faith in God,” Pessotti said. His body healed at a rapid rate on a high-calorie protein diet and numerous skin grafts later. He was released in a record 70 days.
In the months following the accident, Pessotti suffered other setbacks that required healing just like his scars. He was divorced and found himself living on a friend's couch.
During his recovery, a man named Alan Breslau, of Allentown, PA., visited to offer hope and support. “He told me that the only disability that people have is the 6 inches between their ears,” Pessotti recalled. “He said, 'If you perceive yourself as disabled, you are.' After listening to his story (surviving a 1963 plane crash), I didn't see his scars anymore and to me, that was a revelation.”
Pessotti would go on to be an active member of the Breslau's Phoenix Society, supporting other victims in hospitals and appearing in numerous speaking engagements. He even, on a few occasions, spoke with prominent burn victim Kim Phuc, the famous Vietnamese girl running in the streets who was struck with napalm.
Today, Pessotti has remarried and is a successful estate and retirement business planner. “Looking back, knowing what I know today, I would not trade my burns because I've done more with my life and the people I've met.”
Pessotti will be hosting a speaking engagement with Kim Phuc on March 27, 2010 at 55 Hallett St. in Dorcester, Mass., at Florian Hall at 7 p.m. For more information, contact Pessotti at 1-508-612-8101 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
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© 2009, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire