Local News

Union County burn victim graduates high school

Posted October 23, 2009 6:21 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2009 8:43 a.m. EDT

— Ryan Frias survived a wreck in December, but was badly burned nearly 80 percent of his body.

On Friday, he graduated from high school while still a patient at the North Carolina Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

Frias, who turns 19 on Sunday, was injured in a wreck on New Salem Road in Union County. His girlfriend, Kristin Urbigkit, 19, was driving and died in the wreck. The state Highway Patrol said speed was a factor.

Frias sustained third- and fourth-degree burns. The first thing he remembers is waking up at the burn center and arguing with a custodian about what day it was. “She said it was late March … and I was arguing that, no, it was like Dec. 7 or so,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot on tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Ain’t nothing in my life that ever prepared me to see my son that way,” Frias's father, Greg, said.

Despite his injuries, Frias said, he stayed focused on his goal to graduate Central Academy of Technology & Arts, Union County’s first magnet-based high school.

“I wanted to be part of the very first graduating class of my school,” Frias said.

So, between skin-graft surgeries and other procedures, Frias studied.

Before the wreck, he was scheduled to graduate with his class in June.

On Friday, he reached his goal, earning his diploma.

“Just because I’m a little handicapped now, I’m not going to let it stop me,” Frias said.

Burn Center doctors said they’ve never had anyone graduate while still a patient there.

Frias could soon leave the burn center. He said he plans to move to another hospital closer to his father on the West Coast.