Imperial Sugar survivor: On the road to recovery

Darien Brown
Darien Brown

By Melanie Ruberti - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Six months ago, as daylight broke, the city of Port Wentworth, the surrounding community, even the entire nation, got their first look at the destruction left behind at Imperial Sugar.

The word "shocking" doesn't even begin to describe the feelings we felt from those tragic images.

Now, six, long, hard, and for many, painful, months later, Imperial Sugar is rebuilding just as many of the victims are starting to rebuild their lives. 21-year-old Darien Brown sat down with me in a WTOC exclusive interview to talk about that night. He had only been on the job five months as an operating attendant.

The explosion happened in an instant. "I was going to un-jam the line, and the next thing your know, Boom," remembered Darien Brown.

Fire, smoke, chaos, destruction, and just like that, Darien's life changed forever. "When I looked up, all I saw was red. When I got up off the floor, and I just started running. I didn't know where I was running to, but I was trying to get out."

He did get out, and that's the last thing he remembers. "I don't remember leaving the Imperial Sugar refinery parking lot. When I woke up, I was in Augusta," he told me.

Burned over 37 percent of his body, Darien spent the next two months in the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. He had skin grafts on his arms, hands and face. But he didn't let the burns slow him down. " The first day, they showed me how to walk. I walked out the room, across the hall and back," he said," The next day, I told them I wanted to walk two times a day!"

Two months later, in April, Darien came home. But to a very different life. He's had continuous rehab, even using the Nintendo Wii to help him regain mobility in his arms and hands, and beat his brother at bowling.

A mask helps minimize the scarring on Darien's face. But behind the mask, shines the eyes of determination." Right before the accident in December, I told my momma I wanted to go to school. So this is giving me the opportunity. I have nothing else to do, so I can do that," he told me.

"Was this a blessing in disguise?" I asked him.

" I think so," he replied with a smile.

It's a blessing that allows him to focus on his abilities now, six months later. Darien's faith won't let him dwell too long on the past. Instead, it keeps him looking forward to a promising future. " Everything happens for a reason," he said,"So He had to have something in store for me. I think He does, so I just look towards the future."

Darien's future includes taking some online classes, in hopes of becoming a veterinarian.