Burn Survivor Inspires Through Paintings, Views
"Who? Who am I? Yesterday's gone. Today's today. Tomorrow's another day. So why worry? Only time will tell who I am."
This is a phrase authored by burn survivor and artist Lupe Munoz and words that he lives by every day. It's that positive spirit that helped Munoz overcome the hardships of a serious gas explosion more than 36 years ago. Munoz endured 55 surgeries during a year-long stay at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center in 1976 after a butane-filled hole he was working in exploded, burning 65 percent of his body.
"I was down 20 feet and had to climb a ladder to get out," he said.
Munoz was conscious throughout the entire ordeal. While being transported to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, he was able to see how charred the fire had left him, confirmed by the looks of dismay from his co-worker, who was at the top of the hole and had also been burned.
"I knew I was going to die," said Munoz. "When I got to the emergency room, the doctors asked me who I would like to call because things weren't looking good for me. I said my mom."
Munoz made what he thought was going to be the last call to bid farewell to his mother.
"I told her that I had gotten burned in an explosion and it was probably going to be the last time I talked to her," he said.
After a three-day stay at the hospital, Munoz was transported to San Antonio on a helicopter for specialized burn care. During his stay at the burn center he passed the time coloring with crayons. Coloring and drawing were things he had always enjoyed as a child. Little did he realize that this would be the start of a new career.
In 2009, a friend introduced Munoz to an art program offered at the Salvation Army. This is where his artistic passion and talent emerged. Since then, Munoz has sold numerous paintings â€" an accomplishment which has surprised him.
"I never imagined it would get to this," he said.
Despite his disfigured hands, Munoz created inspiring paintings that caught the eye of a newspaper reporter who published a story about him in the San Antonio Express News. A staff member at the Burn Center read the story.
"Obviously he has overcome his circumstance," said Lt. Col. Paul Mittelsteadt, Burn Center Chief of Nurses. "That led me to think that we had a record number of burn center nurses submit scientific posters about performance improvement initiatives to the American Burn Center Association Annual Meeting recently, and wanted to 'show them off' [during National Nurses Week]. Displaying those alongside Mr. Munoz's art, shows how nursing innovations impacts patients who then enrich our lives."
Munoz accepted the invitation and shared his views on life and his talent as a painter by displaying 10 of his paintings at the Burn Center during the 2014 National Nurses Week at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, May 6-12.
"He is amazing," said Burn Center Physical Therapist Assistant Sarah Zayas. "It was an honor meeting and talking to him."
Munoz's take home message was simple: despite what life throws at you, you have to stay positive.
"Everything eventually falls into place," he says, "and when the time comes, whatever you are doing at that time is who you are."