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‘This time, it finally caught up to me’

Tom West considers himself one lucky guy. Real lucky.

"I know I’m very fortunate,’’' he said. "It could have been a lot worse.’’

Yes, indeed, and here’s why:

West, the assistant director of public relations for the Minnesota Vikings and a 1988 graduate of  Lewiston-Altura High School, was home last week from the Twin Cities, working on his parents’ farm.

A week ago Monday, he was burning some brush. Thinking nothing out of the ordinary, West decided to pour on some gasoline, you know, to make the fire go faster.

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"I’ve done that hundreds of times before,’’ he said, "but this time, it finally caught up to me.‘’’

His shirt caught on fire and within seconds his right arm was ablaze. Many of us would have panicked at such a time, but it’s a good thing he refused to freak out.

"In elementary school, we were taught to stop, drop and roll,’’ he said, "and that’s what I did.’’

Luckily, his dad and nephew were nearby, the fire was extinguished and he was driven first to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester and later was transferred to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, which specializes in burn injuries.

"The fire got the whole (right) arm,’’ said West, "from the top of my shoulder down to the fingers. Plus it got me in the back of my ear. I still consider myself lucky because it wouldn’t have taken much for it to have spread.’’

West was hospitalized for three days and is now back on the farm recovering. It’s a slow process.

"I just got back (Monday) from a checkup,’’ he said, "and the doctors told me there’s about a 75 percent chance I’m going to have to undergo a skin graft.’’

Most of the burns were second degree, mixed in with some third degree. Ever burn your finger on the stove? Try your whole arm.

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"It’s painful,’’ he said, "but I’m taking a lot of pills. There’s no other way.’’

West is a 1993 graduate of St. Cloud State University. He started first as a Vikings intern in the public relations department and then was hired full time in 1998. He is married (Shari, a 1994 graduate at Triton).

In case you haven’t heard, this is a busy time of year for all football teams. The Post-Bulletin has also learned that the Vikings training camp in Mankato starts at the end of the month.

West wants to be there, of course.

"The Vikings have been very supportive,’’ he said. "They told me to take my time, my health is the first priority.’’

Nonetheless, West hopes to be in Mankato in 10 days.

"Maybe I can help conduct some interviews, those type of things, who knows,’’ he said. "I just want to be there.

"It’s been an interesting (Brett Favre) off-season and I can’t wait for the season to start.’’

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Whether West is in Mankato for the start of camp, or whether he will make it to the first exhibition or in time for the September season opener, he will return to work.

That’s the good news.

"I was shocked when I saw some other burn people at Regions Hospital,’’ he said.

"Unbelievable. Some of them are not going to get out of the hospital anytime soon. Two, three, four months, even longer I would guess.

"Hey, I’ll survive, it’s only an arm. I know for sure it could have been a lot worse.

"Consider me one lucky guy.’’

 Paul Christian is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at

pchristian@postbulletin.com. 

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