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Road to recovery: Triangle man thanks family's love for saving his life

An electrical transformer - which lies behind locked doors at University of North Carolina's Dey Hall - had been weighing on Gaylan Bishop.

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Bryan Mims
, WRAL reporter
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — An electrical transformer behind locked doors at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Dey Hall had been weighing on Gaylan Bishop.

The transformer had been installed in the 1950s, and Bishop wanted to upgrade it.

As the electric distribution manager for UNC's Energy Services, he showed up to snap some photos on Jan. 20, 2016.

"The entrance to the room had a lip about 4 or 5 inches high," Bishop said.

Unbeknownst to him, there also was a two-by-four on the ground.

"I don't remember the actual accident, but I'm pretty certain that I tripped over that lip and landed on that two-by-four and couldn't catch myself," Bishop said. "I fell head and hands first into that transformer."

He fell into 12,470 volts of electricity. Flames scorched his chest, thighs and hands.

"He was burned from his chin to his ankles," said his wife, Fran Bishop.

A couple of graduate students ran over and beat the flames off of him. They called 911.

Gaylan Bishop said the next thing he remembers was his wife's voice.

"She said, 'Honey, you've been in an accident. You're in the hospital, but everything is going to be OK.' And then, I went to sleep for five months," he said.

For five months, he was in a medically-induced coma.

While at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, doctors told his wife that, given the deep burns over 40 percent of his body, he most likely would not survive.

"I said, 'I know you're doctors, and you have to tell me the worst-case scenario, but my God is bigger than this, and I think he's going to be OK,’" Fran Bishop said.

Fran Bishop prayed for days, and at last, he came out of his coma.

"When I opened my eyes, there she was. Firm as a rock and taking care of me, and she's been there every step of the way," Gaylan Bishop said.

As comforting as a warm quilt, his four daughters, his 11 grandchildren and countless other loved ones have all been there as well, enlivening a sterile room with family photos.

"I felt like I was able to feel God's actual love through my family," he said.

His hands were so gravely burned, doctors had to amputate them.

"To see my doctors’ amazement at my recovery and their embracing my wife's faith as they went along, it was a real spiritually uplifting thing," Gaylan Bishop said.

UNC paid for his medical expenses, and after 13 months in the hospital, he now undergoes routine physical therapy at WakeMed, where he practices household tasks, like making a sandwich.

He misses playing golf and playing the guitar, but for all he's missing, Gaylan Bishop has a full-bodied taste for being alive.

"It really and truly is a wonderful life," he said.



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