BRONSON, Mich. — May 23, 2015 was just a normal day for the Hemker family. They were in the middle of moving into their new home, which was located four miles away from their old one. Andy and his young son Wyatt were moving dirt on his tractor in the field next to their new home. His wife Diana was out purchasing Wyatt’s birthday cake and gathering things at the old house with their infant son Bryson. However, minutes later, she was racing back to the new one.
“I got to our other house, put the baby on the changing table and [Andy's] mom showed up at the door behind and said ‘there was an explosion at the house, we gotta go now,” said Diana Hemker fighting back tears. “So that drive back, it wasn’t very far but it felt like it took forever.”
The tractor Andy and Wyatt were riding on exploded, she said. When she got to the house she saw Andy lying on the ground, barely breathing, and Wyatt on a stretcher.
“He was taken to Kalamazoo by ambulance,” Andy said. “I was air-flied up there. Both of us were put in an induced coma. And I was three weeks in the hospital and he was just over four.”
Andy said their road to recovery has been a long one but they've both come a long way. They’ve gone through rounds of occupational and physical therapy and numerous surgeries. Andy's had 7 surgeries and Wyatt, 11. However Wyatt never lost his kid-like spirit.
“My wife asked him one day about wishing on a star, if he could wish for anything and his exact words were that he’d wish for more toys,” Andy said. “She asked ‘well what about your burns,’ he goes ‘if I got rid of them I wouldn’t be me.’”
Andy’s healing took a little longer he said. Andy’s outlook on his condition changed when he went to a conference for burn survivors in September of that year. There he met others who survived explosions and fires but who didn’t see themselves as victims.
“My wife can tell you that my attitude had just changed 180 degrees that weekend,” said Andy.
This year that same conference will be held in Grand Rapids in September. The Hemkers said they will definitely be there and hope to bring others with them. However they're just grateful they can use their story to help others heal.
“I live life to the fullest everyday ‘cause in the blink of an eye it could be gone,” said Andy. “You never know when its your day.”