Imperial Sugar burn victim recalls blast, shares recovery

Occupational therapist Cheryl Armstrong and Imperial Sugar burn victim Shameir Frasier.
Occupational therapist Cheryl Armstrong and Imperial Sugar burn victim Shameir Frasier.

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The day began like any other, but what happened at 7:17pm on February 7, 2008, changed Shameir Frasier's life forever.

"I just remember cleaning up. And then all of the sudden, there was a big blast and it threw me 10 feet across the room," Shameir remembered. "And I remember I hit the ground and I rolled automatically, so it would put out my fire. I just remember getting up and seeing a lot of people stuck in the fire, and there wasn't anything I could do about it.

"I started praying, 'Lord, please help me make it out of here alive.' I just waited until the sprinklers came on and I wet up my body," he continued. "I got out through a hole in the wall from the blast. I was just walking saying, 'thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus' because I was so happy to be alive,"

He paused, then said, "I will never forget it. That was the most terrifying night of my life."

And just like that, 20-year-old Shameir Frasier's world changed forever. Two weeks later, he woke up in the ICU at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. He was burned over 35 percent of his body with second and third degree burns.

His face, back, arms and hands were the worst. "I looked down at my hands and my fingers were hanging off the bone," Shameir told us.

After seven surgeries, mainly to graft new skin on the burned areas and nearly two months in Augusta, Shameir came home.

"One, two, three," Shameir counted as he slowly moved his fingers up and down during physical therapy.

"Bend, straighten, bend," his occupational therapist Cheryl Armstrong replied.

But life isn't the same. Shameir must endure an hour of therapy three days a week at Memorial University Medical Center's Rehabilitation Center. "It's painful. I'm trying to keep a straight face," he said.

Simple tasks, like trying to make a fist, are now challenges for Shameir. His fingers and joints are stiff and can only be loosened up by continually bending and stretching them.

And there's no masking the pain. Still, Shameir and Cheryl push on. "Come on you can do it," she cheered. "Every time he comes in, he's still a little bit tight. We still have to work on getting that full range for him to be able to grip, to get back to work and do the things that he needs to do in daily life."

Shameir agreed, smiling, "It's always a challenge. But no pain, no gain."

Deep tissue massages help loosen up the new skin. But pressure garments will now become a part of his wardrobe for the next year. He must wear them 23 hours a day to keep the scarring down from skin grafts.

A small price to pay he said, to get the use of his hands back. "Basically to get out there and play me some basketball," he said.

His hands were his constant guide at Imperial Sugar where he worked as a packaging attendant for three months before the blast. He was in the packaging facility, one of the buildings extensively damaged the night of the explosion.

But Shameir tries not to dwell on the accident itself. Instead, he's focusing on the positive. He's alive and has a lot to be thankful for. "It changed me for the better. It made me a better person," he told us when asked about the explosion. "It made me realize I was taking my life for granted."

He hopes other burn victims realize too. They've survived one of the worst disasters in Chatham County history and now the healing can begin.

"Everything's going to be all right," he smiled. "They're going to make it. It's going to be all right."

Shameir shares his positive outlook with other burn victims too. He stops by to visit those still remaining in Augusta when he goes for doctor appointments he'll have for at least another year.

Shameir says his family has been there through his darkest hours. He expressed his love for them through song.

"Dear momma, I want to let you know that I love you for watching over me. Times are hard, but we're going to make it through the struggle," he sang.

And as Shameir's rap goes, he is making it. Doctor's have even cleared to him to drive. Just another big milestone he can claim on his road to recovery.

The burn victims that remain in Augusta are making progress too. On Wednesday, we'll take you on a unique tour inside the ICU and the rehabilitation unit at the burn center.

We'll show just what those patients go through before they can come home and we'll hear from family members, sticking by their loved ones.

All that and more in part three of our special assignment, Imperial Sugar: The Road to Recovery.

Reported by: Melanie A. Ruberti,