ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – It has been nearly a year since a man was critically burned in a propane explosion just outside Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County. Thanks to the care he received at Swedish Medical Center, that man has recovered physically with few limitations.

But Fred Phillips told Health Specialist Kathy Walsh he will never get over losing his loving partner who was killed in the inferno.

(credit: Fred Phillips)

“I write her a letter every night,” said Fred.

That is how the 73-year-old stays connected to Electra Churchill, the woman he shared his life with for 25 years.

On October 11, 2019, the couple from Louisiana traveled to Colorado to catch the changing aspens. They were in the guest house on their property in Pagosa Springs.

“I turned the projector on and the next thing I know was a tremendous explosion,” Fred explained. “I was digging and fighting my way out of there. That’s all I remember.”

(credit: Trevor Schoelhamer)

Bystanders pulled Fred out. He was told he tried to go back.

“… and get Electra,” said an emotional Fred.

But Electra was trapped and died. Fred was flown to Swedish Medical Center.

“He had full thickness burns to about 50% of his body,” said Dr. Benson Pulikkottil, Medical Director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Swedish.

Pulikkottil and his wife, Dr. Lily Daniali, both plastic surgeons, treated Fred with skin grafts and a solution of spray-on skin cells made from a sample of Fred’s healthy skin.

“Those then grow and will cover and make new skin,” said Dr. Daniali with Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Swedish.
Fred left Swedish after 46 days.

“This is a guy that’s flying planes, he’s working out, he’s doing all the stuff he was doing before his injury,” said Pulikkottil.
Fred credits the hospital staff and his family for his physical healing.

Emotionally, he aches because he lived and Electra didn’t.

“I have flashbacks of her ordeal,” said Fred. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”

Fred is now an advocate for burn survivors and he is pushing for stronger warning signs of gas leaks.

“I would say your eyes should start burning,” said Fred. “It should be so terrible that you turn around and walk out.”

Fred cannot change what happened to him, but he hopes he can keep prevent someone else from suffering.

Kathy Walsh

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