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Injured firefighter Daniel Lyon shares recovery

Daniel Lyon

SEATTLE -- For three months, Daniel Lyon couldn't leave Harborview's Burn Center. Wednesday, he was a typical visitor, checking in for an appointment and chatting about the weather.

The 25-year old lives in Montana now but returns to Seattle so his doctors at the Burn Center can check on his progress. And he is making remarkable progress. He's walking around. He's eating whatever he wants, as long as it's cut into small pieces. He seems comfortable.

"When I was initially in ICU and I'd wake up and look at myself in the mirror, I didn't like what I saw," he said. "Even now, it's still hard. But you get used to it. And since then, a lot of my face has healed more. But it is tough when you see your skin and it's not the perfect complexion it was. It's far from it. But so many people behind me have done it. You just have to get used to the new normal."

Part of normal life is taking questions from people who ask why he looks the way he does.

"There will be people that will ask. I kind of expect them to ask," Daniel said. "Because I imagine if it was the other way around, I'd probably ask what happened."

What happened was a horrifying accident while Daniel worked the front lines of the Twisp wildfires. His crew was overrun by flames and in smokey confusion, their engine crashed. Richard Wheeler, Andrew Zajac and Tom Zbyszewski died. Daniel has described them as brothers.

"All those guys, I miss dearly and think about them daily and just have really good memories of all of them," he said.

He still shares that firefighter brotherhood. A Seattle fire crew came to the hospital with him after they all visited Miss Murphy's fourth grade class at St. Edwards School. The children sent Daniel bundles of letters every couple weeks, including jokes and riddles to cheer him up. Wherever he goes, he finds an outpouring of support.

"It's impressive. Just today I've been thanked three or four times already. When I'm home, people will come up to me and they recognize who I am and they'll come out and shake my hand and thank me. So it's a really good feeling to know people truly and honestly care about you and what happened and are grateful to your service," he said.

Daniel's main goal is to regain his independence. It's hard being a young man, relying on his parents.

"I was so used to going out all the time, being with my friends and a lot of social places. It is tougher now," he said.

But he has glimmers of a normal life. He has a girlfriend, Megan, who he met through mutual friends. He said they would walk around Pike Place and some other Seattle tourist stops during his time in town. He has the tip of his compression gloves cut off on one finger, so he's able to text.

Back home in Montana, Daniel is in occupational, physical and speech therapy five days a week for five to six hours at a time. It's a full time job. His biggest challenge is being able to use his hands.

"I don't think people realize how much you need them and when you lose movement in them, it drastically decreases what you can do."

The most significant progress has been with his legs - a huge accomplishment for this lifelong outdoorsman. Last weekend, he went snowshoeing for the first time.

"I plan to hopefully go skiing soon. Maybe on the bunny hill, but it will still be skiing," he said.

Doctors could free him of the mask and compression garments that help his skin heal in a matter of months. He has more surgeries down the road, including scar release treatment and plastic surgery. He still wants to work in law enforcement, even if can't be as a patrol officer. Daniel Lyon still wants to serve the public.

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