Local News

Survivor of fiery wreck thrives with family

Posted January 26, 2011 4:09 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2011 8:45 p.m. EST

— A fiery, chain-reaction wreck on Interstate 40 on Jan. 26, 2009, changed Robert Leffer's life, and even his body.

But Leffer, of Sanford, and his wife say the long road to recovery hasn't changed their family.

Leffer was at the wheel of a garbage truck when it was clipped by an SUV cutting across four lanes of traffic. His truck flipped over and caught on fire. He survived but suffered burns on 80 percent of his body.

"You just can't give up. You have to be strong," Leffer, a married father of one, said. "I never imagined I'd be where I'm at now."

He endured a dozen surgeries and months of rehabilitation at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals.

Now, the burns have healed, and Leffer can walk and drive again. He sometimes even drives himself to physical therapy.

He will have surgery again in two weeks to loosen scar tissue on his hands and lips.

The pain is constant, and it hurts to be on his feet for more than an hour.

"On a scale of one to 10, I'm usually on three to four pain level," Leffer said.

He also feels the pain of not knowing if he'll be able to work again.

"I did enjoy driving my truck, and I did enjoy working," he said.

Leffer, though, finds enjoyment in being at home with his wife Amalia and 3½-year-old son Robert Junior.

"My wife, she still looks at me like the same guy she first met," he said. "She always tells me I'm handsome. When we go places, she's not ashamed to put her arms around me and hold on when we're walking."

His wife said Leffer hasn't changed from the man she married.

"It's because I've fallen in love with his big heart, and he's still the same," she said.

The love of his family is the best medicine for Leffer now.

His next goal is to be able to run again, so he can chase his toddler around the house and teach him to ride a bike.

"I'm grateful to every day of life," he said.