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How Joel McCarville Survived and Grew from His Trial by Fire

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The day of October 18, 2005 began as any ordinary day, or so Joel McCarville thought. However, the events of that day would seriously alter Joel’s lifestyle. Joel is a painter by trade, does home modifications, and is a roofer. Also, he is a very talented musician and singer. He tinkers with automobiles when there is a mechanical problem. This was the case on the day of his accident. 

Earlier that morning, Joel’s 1990 Chevrolet pick-up would not start. He asked his mom to turn the key in the ignition as he poured gas from a glass jar into the carburetor. When she turned the key, a spark ignited the gas. This startled Joel causing him to spill the gas out of the container onto himself. The flames from the spark reacted with the spilt gas and caught his shirt on fire, burning the upper part of his body. Joel became a living torch. He struggled to get the fire extinguished with his hands, but could not, so he “dropped and rolled” which stopped the flames. 

Joel’s skin was hanging from his arms and hands. They resembled spaghetti noodles, freshly cooked. The exposed flesh looked like raw meat, recently placed on a grill, red and charred. His mother called for help and he was transported to Mercy Hospital in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, 8 miles away.

When the doctors examined Joel, they determined his condition was critical. He had 3rd degree burns on 65% of his body. Mercy Hospital was not equipped to deal with this type of injury. They arranged for Joel to be air-lifted to Alexander Burn Center-Hillcrest Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Without proper care and treatment, Joel’s condition was a breeding-ground for infection. The skin on the human body is an important barrier for keeping infection from entering it and damaging vital organs. Therefore, immediate action was necessary and, within two hours, Joel was on a helicopter heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

While at Alexander Burn Center, Joel underwent five skin grafts on his back, hands, arms, and chest. Within 24 hours after each graft on his fingers, it was imperative for Joel to have therapy. The reason for the therapy was to keep the skin flexible on his fingers in order for him to bend them properly for future use. The therapy was very painful and grueling, but Joel was determined to not give in to the pain. His plans were to go on living as close to normal as possible when he returned home. 

Joel spent six weeks at the Alexander Burn Center. Returning home did not end his challenges. He needed assistance even in simple tasks such as opening a door. He was not able to dress or feed himself. Joel continued therapy on his fingers using a rubber ball, squeezing it multiple times throughout the day. After three months of painful effort, Joel was able to begin doing simple tasks such as eating with a fork. 

In 6 months time, Joel made a remarkable come back. He began playing his guitar again. This was quite remarkable considering the therapist’s comment in Tulsa. He told Joel there was a possibility he would not be able to use his hands as he had before the accident. Joel did home JoelRoofermodifications again along with painting houses. He was able to continue his roofing business. Joel was determined to regain the use of his hands. On return office visits, he impressed the therapist in Tulsa who had doubted that Joel would ever be able to accomplish with his hands what had seemed impossible only months before. 

Today, Joel is known in Sebastian and Crawford County for his talent as a musician and singer. Shortly after his return home, he made a CD that described his ordeal and gave tribute to God for bringing him through his difficult circumstances. Joel also expressed his gratitude to those who helped him through the most difficult time of his life. He returned to the Alexander Burn Center singing and playing his guitar for the patients who were critically burned. Many of the staff commented about his amazing recovery. 

Every Sunday he plays his violin in the church orchestra where he attends. He chose the violin because of the challenge. The neck of the violin is small and this makes him stretch the skin on those burned fingers and keeps them flexible. Joel says the violin is the most difficult to play since his burn.

Through all of his difficult ordeals, Joel said, “I give all the credit to God for being with me in my recovery. He is the one who brought me out of the most difficult time of my life”. Joel is deeply indebted to all the staff at the Alexander Burn Center for their expert medical care. 

Along with Joel’s involvement with his church work, he is often found at nursing homes singing and playing for the elderly. He also has a great sense of humor and keeps the residents in good spirits with his funny stories. He visits shut-ins for whom he sings and plays his guitar. Joel feels he owes a debt to society and God for allowing him to continue to do the things he enjoys. Joel’s goal in life is to help those who cannot help themselves through music, song, and laughter.

JoelViolinJoel M Thought


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12 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Karen - Ohio said:

    This is a riveting story of resilience and faith.

  • Tara - Connecticut said:

    I am inspired by Joel’s drive to continue with music even after his burns.

  • Katherine - Connecticut said:

    Your selection of what makes a “good news story” is appealing to me because the premise of all of these articles is essentially an outlook which answers and challenges the tenets of traditional news reporting. While other publications survive based on their ability to sensationalize stories which are considered news on account of their immediacy of occurrence or shock-value, these stories represent the ongoing work of people who, very often, once were part of the mainstream news. Joel McCarville’s story embodies exactly what I mean in this sense. While tales of his tragic burn injuries surely made at least the local news in his area, his real story comes afterwards and is the type which I personally do not see well-represented in the media. In essence, your publication has moved him conceptually from victim to hero. I imagine that reports of his burn attracted readers because of the severity of his tragedy or the brutality of his burns; conversely, this story celebrates his strength and serves as inspiration for others who have been dealt a tough hand in life. Stories of this nature are the ones which personally interest me and are the type which I interact with daily in my own social circles. I’ve spent a great deal of energy and thought developing the understanding that imperfections and misfortunes are a normal part of human development.

  • Paker - Utah said:

    I feel like what you are trying to accomplish with your Magazine is very worthwhile and we all know the world needs more stuff like it. I read this article and thought is was uplifting and inspiring.

  • Randi - Ohio said:

    Joel’s story is definitely one of overcoming obstacles against all odds. I am greatly encouraged by his story. I have experience working in a nursing home, so I know the residents must love his visits.

    While the content of the story is good, I feel as if the writing could use a little tweaking. There are good elements of the story, and some solid sentences. But, the overall feel of the article is too informal for the setting; reading it, I felt as if someone was telling me a story for the details rather than crafting an elaborate tale that paints a vivid picture.

  • Tammy – Ohio said:

    I really enjoyed reading this Joel McCarville article. I am fascinated by people who defy the odds, and McCarville certainly has. His story reminds us all that we are stronger than we think and braver than we can imagine.

  • Andrew said:

    This was a very enjoyable article to read. Joel’s determination to overcome his injuries, and not allow himself to give up, was very inspirational.

  • Tammy – USA said:

    I really enjoyed this story of Joel McCarthy and how he survived and grew from his trials by fire. I was inspired to continue to do my personal best in the face of my personal obstacles.
    I believe stories such as the ones you publish play a large part in perhaps renewing and strengthening the reader’s faith in humanity and gives strength to those struggling to ” beat the odds” and raise their heads in times of feeling beat down.

  • Liz – Louisiana said:

    I enjoyed this story of healing and coming back stronger and more humble. His strength to fight through terrible pain is very inspiring.

  • Terri Hopkins said:

    such a victorious testimony of faith, mixed with determination! I remember when that happened! We prayed for Joel!

  • Paula Jordan said:

    Well written. Brought back memories of seeing God work daily in Joel’s life. God is good all the time!

  • Merrill Mixer said:

    i’ve enjoyed Joel’s musical talent both before and since this fateful day. It was a horrific experience for sure and I’m so glad he never gave up and that God brought him through. Thanks for sharing the story Bonise!

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