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Plant blast survivor offers hope to other burn victims

A Kinston man said his survival and recovery offers hope to North Carolinians injured in recent workplace accidents.

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KINSTON, N.C. — A Kinston man said his survival and recovery offers hope to North Carolinians injured in recent workplace accidents.

"It's going to be a long and tough road to recovery to go through," said Jim Edwards, who was seriously injured an explosion at the West Pharmaceutical plant that killed one person in 2003.

On June 9, a natural gas leak at a ConAgra plant in Garner sparked an explosion that killed three people and injured dozens.

On June 20, an ammonia leak at Mountaire Farms Inc. poultry plant in Robeson County killed one person and injured three others.

Then, on July 4, a truck carrying fireworks exploded on Ocracoke Island, killing four people and severely burning a fifth.

In all three accidents, severely burned workers were transported to the North Carolina Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

Edwards said he prayed for the injured and dead as he followed the reports of the ConAgra explosion.

"Lord, I just hope the people, they are not burned or seriously hurt, because if they're burned, I know what they'll have to go through," he said.

He recalled the blast at the West Pharmaceutical plant: "All of a sudden, I felt a whole lot of suction come up around me, and everything turned bright white."

Edwards was trapped inside. "I had thoughts going through my mind of 'I'm just going to sit down and give up,'" he said.

Instead, he found his way to a large opening created by the explosion. He waved for help through thick smoke, and firefighters helped him down. He was transported to the Jaycees Burn Center.

Edwards was in such bad shape, doctors put him in a medicated coma for nearly three months. His parents remained at his bedside, getting daily updates.

"I remember waking up. A nurse was sitting beside my bed. She said, 'Jim, do you know what day it is?' And I said, 'It's Jan. 29, 2003,' and she said, 'No, Jim, this is April,'" he recalled.

After he woke up, a hard and painful recovery began.

Everyday, doctors unwrapped his bandages and cleaned his wounds. Physical therapy to learn how to walk again followed.

"They cry when you cry, because they hate to hurt you," Edwards said. "I cried every day when I had to get up and walk."

After nearly eight months in the burn center, Edwards came home. He credits the doctors there with saving his life: "Thank God for the Jaycees Burn Center."

The explosion left its mark on Edwards, though: He's permanently blind.

Despite that, he says his outlook has never been more positive.

"I just have a good life," he said. "I am blessed everyday to get up, even though I cannot see, and I feel good that I'm not hurting anymore."

Edwards said he is proof that the workers injured at ConAgra, Mountaire Farms and Ocracoke can heal.

"Life is still going to go on. You're still the same on the inside, but you might be a little different on the outside. That should not matter a bit," he said.

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Mike Charbonneau, Reporter
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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