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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Burn survivor inspires in recovery

February 04, 2020

When you strike up a conversation with 13-year-old Dale Anderson, it’s not the kind you would expect from your average middle school-aged boy. The wise-beyond-his- years, outgoing young teen from Council Bluffs, Iowa, carries himself more like a Dale five times his age, and draws on one very traumatic life experience when he offers advice to others.

“If anything happens to you, don’t just give up. Push through it and it gets better.” Dale was severely burned in May 2019. He said he was horsing around a campfire when fumes from a gas tank built up and exploded. He suffered burns to 79% of his body, including third-degree burns on his arms and legs. Dale was airlifted to CHI St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he spent three months in the burn unit before being transferred to Madonna for rigorous inpatient therapy. He decided to dedicate himself to getting stronger and aiming to inspire.

“I made a dumb decision by playing with fire,” Dale said. “I’m just glad to be alive, but through my experience I hope to inspire others to push through their problems.”

Despite the often excruciating pain he endured during therapy, Dale heeded his own advice, persevering through each session. Working closely alongside Madonna’s Burn Program Leader and Certified Burn Therapist Brooke Murtaugh, Dale transitioned from being unable to put weight on his bandage-covered legs to walking with minimal assistance of a cane in just three weeks. Murtaugh attributes Dale’s remarkable progress to his determination to get better.

“Burn is of its own nature with the incredible pain and trauma that the patient goes through,” Murtaugh said. “For Dale to have done so well and come out on the other side smiling, we don’t see that very often with survivors of burn injury.”

After more than a dozen surgeries and hundreds of hours of therapy in Madonna’s inpatient, Rehabilitation Day and outpatient programs, Dale returned to school in October and accomplished his mission to inspire others. The mayor of his hometown proclaimed Oct. 4 as Dale Anderson Day, and Iowa’s governor also recognized the teenager for his bravery and strength in recovery.

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