SALINEVILLE - A fundraiser was held Saturday evening at the Salineville Volunteer Fire Department for Johnny Speece of Kensington, who is still recovering from a burn sustained in a freak accident on Dec. 4 of last year
It was that morning, while cutting a load of firewood at his mother's nearby home, that Speece's Husqvarna chainsaw backflashed, shooting flames nearly a foot across into his torso. He was instantly enveloped in fire from his waist up to his neck.
Dropping and rolling to the ground didn't work at first, but the fire was eventually out. He briefly lost consciousness at that point, but remembers tearing away what was left of his clothes and seeing the horrendous damage. "I looked down, and everything from my neck to the top of my privates was just hanging," he said.
Johnny Speece of Kensington holds his 13-month-old son, Conner, at a fundraiser held for him at Salineville Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday evening. With him are his fiance, Kimberly Gulu, and her 5-year-old daughter, Savannah Gulu. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
What followed was an improbable worst-case scenario. The 911 call resulted in a dispatch error that caused an agonizing wait of nearly two hours for an ambulance. Fire department personnel and sheriff's deputies came, but could do little to help.
Despite burns beyond third degree to his abdominal area and second-degree burns to his arms, chest and face, Speece did not go into shock and remained conscious through most of the ordeal. "I was asking God, 'What did I ever do to deserve this?'" he recalled.
An ambulance finally arrived, whisking him to Aultman Hospital in Canton, where doctors could do little more than stabilize Speece before sending him on a Lifeflight to the burn unit at Akron Children's Hospital.
The surgeries began almost immediately, with extensive skin grafts applied over much of his body, from his chest down to the groin area, as well as to his left forearm. As awful as the pain from the burns were, Speece insists that the area where the skin was harvested for the grafts (from the knee to the waistline of his left leg, just above the nerve endings) was much worse.
Following two weeks at the hospital, and against doctors' wishes, Speece came home to celebrate Christmas with his fiance, Kimberly Gulu, her 5-year-old daughter, Savannah Gulu, and their 13-month-old son, Conner. During a visit to the hospital, Savannah told him that she wouldn't open her presents until he came home, no matter how long it took.
Leaving so quickly required abandoning the heavier pain relievers and other drugs he had been on while hospitalized, but Speece says spending Christmas with his family provided the strength and motivation to pull through. His strong religious faith has also seen him through the hard times. "I've got the Lord on my side, without a doubt," he said.
The greatest challenges Speece now faces is a tough combination of more than $262,000 in medical bills and being unable to work for the next several months. Saturday evening's fundraiser was held to help the family with its basic necessities, but he is also looking toward the future and being able to afford a chainsaw to replace the one destroyed in the fire.
Despite the nervousness he knows he'll feel the first time he goes to pick up a chainsaw again, Speece's determination will not allow him to give up. As the owner of Conner's Tree Service, named for his son, he knows overcoming the fear is essential to reclaiming his dream business.
"I'll make it one way or the other," he said.