Burn victim moves to rehab

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

After more than 13 months in the Evans-Haynes Burn Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, a burn victim with local ties finally is moving to a rehabilitation center.

Lon Bickham, who grew up in Chuckatuck and graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in 1998, moved to the Sheltering Arms physical therapy and rehabilitation center in Mechanicsville on Tuesday. He was accompanied on the 16-minute ambulance trip by his girlfriend and his doctor.

“The move went very easy,” said Carolyn Bickham, Lon’s mother.


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Bickham was one of four men injured in an explosion in Emporia on April 7, 2011. They were working for Pinecrest Timber and doing maintenance on a wood chipper when the explosion occurred.

One of the men, Gary Pierce, later died.

About 94 percent of Bickham’s body was burned, mostly by third-degree burns. He has undergone multiple surgeries to graft cadaver skin, artificial skin and lab-cultured Epicel, which is grown from his own cells. His face and feet were unaffected, but he lost all of his fingers except for his thumbs.

“He’ll be in therapy for years to come,” Bickham said. “He’s strong, and he’s going to make it. We’re hoping he’s going to walk and learn to use what he’s got of his hands.”

Upon arrival at the rehabilitation center, Lon Bickham told them he wants to be able to walk, feed himself and take care of personal things by himself, according to a blog set up by the family to update friends on his progress.

Bickham said her son has been strong up to this point and will continue to be strong.

“He’s been strong-willed enough to survive,” she said. “They, of course, did not think he could possibly survive.”

She added that he already is talking about projects he wants to complete when he is able to go home.

“He’s always talking about all the projects he’s going to do when he gets home,” Bickham said. “He said he wants to walk and he wants to work.”

She said her son is worried about his hands, “because he was always a hands man,” but the doctors have assured him he will adjust to using just his thumbs.

“He’s been amazingly strong physically, mentally and emotionally,” she said. “He has been very upbeat. I have not once heard him say, ‘Woe is me.’”

Bickham said her son likely will spend about six to nine months in the rehabilitation center and then come to his parents’ home in Suffolk. He hopes to one day move back to his own home.

Bickham extended her thanks to the family and friends that have supported the family, as well as medical professionals who have become close to the family.

“Out of this tragedy has come so many wonderful people,” she said. “I don’t know how to express all that to people.”

To read the full story of Bickham’s recovery, visit www.carepages.com and search for Lon Bickham.