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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Crete firefighter inspires during burn recovery

February 06, 2023

As a 30-year veteran of the Crete Volunteer Fire Department, Brad Elder likes to help people. However, when a fierce grass fire in Gage County left him with third-degree and second-degree burns last fall, he found himself as the one who needed help.

“As far as burns go, this is an amazingly lucky set of burns,” Brad said. “I have burns on my legs and my butt. The only critical one was my hand.”

The 54-year-old credits his fellow first responders for saving his life.

“I got hit with a wall of fire,” Brad recalled. “So I thought I was going to die, and my life was flashing before my eyes. My partner grabbed the hose, and he cut a hole through the fire to come get me.”

Luckily, the two firefighters managed to escape and radioed for help. Thanks to the quick actions of the Lancaster County sheriff and a nearby crew of Lincoln Fire and Rescue paramedics, Brad and his partner arrived at CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, Nebraska. Three days later, Brad came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ specialized burn program. He was unable to walk and was in significant pain, but he soon created comradery among Madonna’s staff.

“When I came to Madonna, I fell in love with every single nurse that came in,” Brad said. “They’re like my brother or my sister. The staff here has done a really wonderful job keeping me positive.”

His care team, led by Brooke Murtaugh, OT, Madonna’s burn program leader and a certified burn therapist, developed a unique treatment plan to maximize Brad’s mobility, function and independence. Meanwhile, Madonna’s nursing staff provided him with dressing care, pain management and emotional support.

“When he first got here, he was in a lot of pain, but he was always in a good mood,” Moriah Stone, RN, said. “He always had something funny to say. We got to know him, his wife, and his firefighter buddies really well. He can do pretty much everything himself now, whereas before, he was very dependent on the nursing staff because the pain was excruciating for him. It’s been nice to see him gain more independence.”

Brad agreed, noting that the care he received at both CHI St. Elizabeth and Madonna has been incredible.

“Madonna’s care has allowed this [hand] to be flexible again, which is insane considering how it looked before,” Brad said. “So it’s been a great recovery so far.”

Brad just recently returned home with his wife, and he is currently doing outpatient therapy in Madonna’s Rehabilitation Day Program. Plus, as a biology professor at Doane University, he’s already teaching again via Zoom. This summer, he also hopes to travel to Africa again so he can continue his work there fighting malaria.

“I’m alive,” Brad said. “Every day is a holiday, and I get to choose which one.”

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