Tim Courtney

Tim Courtney
Tim Courtney

The lowest temperature at which vapors from a liquid will ignite is called the flash point. Gasoline, with a flash point of minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, is one of the world’s most dangerous liquids, capable of catching fire or exploding from something as innocuous as static electricity.

Sixteen-year-old Timothy Courtney of Muncie, Ind., was about to find this out.

He and a college student were being paid to clear some woods. On July 25, 2006, they were trying to burn the piles they’d made, but the boys couldn’t get the brush to catch fire. An adult told them to use gasoline.

“The fire attacked Timothy,” said his mom, Kathy Courtney. “It was very quick; he didn’t even realize he’d been burned.”

Flames leapt up Timothy’s right arm and his neck, engulfing his face. Adults at a nearby house tried to cool the burns with a garden hose then drove Timothy to a hospital while they alerted his mom.

“When I walked into Ball Memorial Hospital, Timothy’s face was a deep, dark red, almost a scorched look. His eyebrows and eyelashes were singed off,” said Kathy. “He looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I’m OK.’ That was such a relief. He was alert, and I could look into his eyes.”

Doctors were afraid Timothy had inhaled fumes so they intubated him. He was then airlifted to

Indiana’s only pediatric burn center and placed in the care of Dr. John Coleman, chief of plastic surgery and director of the burn unit at Riley Hospital. When a nurse summoned family to Timothy’s bed at 5 a.m. the next morning, his mom admits she became a bit nauseous from seeing his raw skin. Later that day, nurses started scrubbing it to remove dead tissue.

“It was heart wrenching. They’d give him a double dose of pain medicine, but it was still excruciating,” Kathy said.

The teen faced the likelihood of skin grafts. In preparation, he needed to have two protein drinks a day; his mom got him drinking four or five. Miraculously, within a week of the accident, skin buds were growing – which meant no skin grafts. Today, Timothy has only a small scar on his nose and on one wrist.

Kathy said Riley Hospital nurses and Timothy’s friends helped the teen stay positive.

“I figured worse things could have happened,” Timothy said. “The nurses were great all the time; they even brought me a computer to use. And many people came to see me. For the first three or four days I was awake, I constantly had people in my room. Knowing people cared really helped.”

Kelly Wittman, Timothy’s principal, wasn’t surprised by her student’s attitude. As a student council member, he helps host the school’s annual Riley Hospital fundraising dinner.

“Tim represents the best of what a principal hopes to see in her students,” Kelly wrote when she nominated him to be a Riley Champion. “He’s a wonderful young adult who cares about others and champions their success above his own. I’m proud to know Timothy Courtney. He shows me every day what it means to be a champion.”

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