Burn victim continues to mend

>Mont Vernon man was injured in Taiwan

MONT VERNON – A little more than a year ago, Alex Haas was fighting for his life after a fun evening at a Tai­wan water park ended in an horrific fire. Haas suffered burns on 90 percent of his body and for awhile his sur­vival was in doubt.

Now, the 28-year-old is still recovering, at home, and upbeat, continuing, he says, "to get better and bet­ter."

"I have been lucky," he said, because of the support from family and friends and from the superb care he says he’s getting at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Doctors are "working to­ward making my skin and functioning as close" as pos­sible to what it had been, he said in a phone interview this week.

Treatment is a combina­tion of skin grafts, laser surgery and injections. Most recently he has been recovering from hand sur­gery that required a boxing glove-sized bandage on this hand. There will be more surgeries to come, but he is happy with the additional range of motion he has ac­quired, and the ongoing recovery has given him time to think seriously about his future

After college, Haas worked at Chili’s Restau­rant and at country clubs in New Hampshire. Now he’s decided he wants to work toward a career in the arts and pursue a graduate degree.

In the meantime, he’s enjoying this summer as best he can, kayaking and hiking small mountains with friends.

"It feels great, doing a lot of stuff I used to do," he said.

And there is Ruka, a shar-pei puppy whose name means "Blue Flow­er" in Chinese and who keeps him busy with her care.

Along with the surger­ies and recovery periods – there have been more than a dozen surgeries so far – his days are filled with physical therapy and physical training.

Last year, Haas had been teaching English with the HESS Inter­national Educational Group in Tawain, when he attended, with about a thousand other specta­tors, an event at the For­mosa Water Park called Color Play Asia.

Haas has detailed mem­ories of what happened on the evening of June 27, 2015, as he was standing at the gate near the stage and a man shot off an air can­non filled with flammable colored powder that cov­ered the crowd of mostly young people. Within sec­onds a firestorm erupt­ed on stage and spread through the crowd.

Haas said he and every­one else began screaming and running, and he could feel the skin on the bot­tom of his feet burn away. He remembers seeing TV crews when the ambulance arrived at the hospital.

After he woke up from an induced coma 10 days later he remembers ask­ing, "Where’s my family?

And they were there – his parents, Ed and Les­lie, and three siblings, Chris, Ben and Dana, who arrived in Tawain within a few days of the accident.

"It was crazy. I couldn’t believe it. It was a whirl­wind of a time," said Haas.

Fifteen people died as a result of the explosion and fire. Five hundred were injured, many of them critically.

One good thing that came as a result of the fire, he said, is that a doctor from Massachu­setts General Hospital is bringing carbon laser technology to Taiwan, where they don’t have all the advanced equipment needed to treat the scars of burn victims.

"I have been lucky," he says as he talks about his medical care. "There is no way I can be gra­cious enough … I still love Tawain, and I love my friends there."

Alex spent more than two months in a Taiwanese hospital, where his par­ents, according to Chinese custom, were required to provide him with round-the-clock nursing care. They stayed until they left with him in September.

The event organizer was found guilty of negli­gence, and Alex’s parents are involved in ongoing legal efforts, made very difficult by the language barrier. Sometimes it takes a month for one document to be sent to the United States and translated, said Alex’s fa­ther, Ed Haas.

"The court has already ruled that only one per­son was responsible – the marketing promoter," he said, "not the huge water park that rented out its facility and paid no atten­tion to safety."

According to Wikipe­dia’s entry on the disas­ter, a fire expert has said event organizers set up "conditions for a disas­ter" and had not used wa­ter sprays that would have reduced the risk of igni­tion. Smoking was per­mitted at the event, and about 40 cigarette butts were found afterwards.

Kathy Cleveand can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.