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Plant fire survivor celebrates recovery

For Jim Edwards of Kinston, every day is reason to give thanks. Almost six years after an explosion at the West Pharmaceutical plant left him critically injured, Edwards calls his recovery "a miracle."

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KINSTON, N.C. — For Jim Edwards of Kinston, every day is reason to give thanks.

Edwards was one of the most seriously injured workers when the West Pharmaceutical plant exploded in 2003. That blast claimed six lives and injured dozens more.

As the smoke began to clear, Edwards could be seen trapped in the burning building, waving for help. His rescue was the beginning of an amazing story of survival and endurance.

"I feel like it's a miracle," Edwards said recently.

The explosion left him blind and burned over more than 60 percent of his body. During his eight-month recovery at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, Edwards' father, Red, stayed at his side.

Almost six years later, Edwards continues to make progress, with Red still there to help him.

"I think I've come a long ways," Jim Edwards said. "My mobility is a whole lot better." He walks on his own with a cane.

His independence returned, but his vision has not. He makes periodic trips to UNC hospital as part of his recovery. He holds out hope that medical technology can one day help with his sight.

"Everything is still dark, but I'm not letting that slow me down."

Red knows how far Jim has come. "I'm very thankful that he's still with me. There were many times when it looked like it may not be."

Together, father and son travel the state teaching groups about safety and the dangers of the chemical dust which caused the West Pharmaceutical plant explosion.

"Anything that we can do to prevent a tragedy like it did here in Kinston ..." Edwards is happy to share his story and memories of the six friends he lost that day.

Red notes that as he ages, the caregiver roles will be reversed. "I will have to let him take care of me now," father said of son.

It's a favor Jim Edwards is happy to return.

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Mike Charbonneau, Reporter

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