Meet Dillon Ryan
Survivor From the Chandler Gas Explosion
August 26, 2021 was a typical day for small business owner Dillon Ryan. He ate breakfast, dropped his son off at daycare and went to work at the printing shop he owned with his older brother. However, a couple of hours into his day, Dillon’s world was forever changed when a sudden explosion destroyed his business and catapulted him into the biggest challenge of his life.
“At 9:23 a.m. our company literally blew up from an undetected, underground natural gas leak,” Dillon said. “I didn’t hear anything unusual. Didn’t smell anything unusual. There was nothing out of the ordinary leading up to the incident. But in the time it takes to snap your fingers, everything was gone.”
Dillon’s first thought was that a plane had flown in the building. He remembers a flash-bang sound and a big ball of fire over his shoulder. He was blown out of his office chair and the entire building was in bits and pieces.
“I opened my eyes and was laying on the ground staring at the blue sky because our entire roof was gone,” Dillon recalled. “I knew nothing would ever be the same again. The walls were bowed in, the sprinklers were engaged, the doors were blown off, glass paned windows were gone, and it smelled like lighter fluid.”
As Dillon scrambled to get out of the building, he searched for his brother Andrew and their employee Parker, who had also escaped the wreckage. All three men were severely burned from the explosion. Emergency vehicles arrived within minutes to transport them to the world-renowned Arizona Burn Center at Valleywise Health in Central Phoenix.
In the ambulance, Dillon started to evaluate the damage to his body. “The skin was blown off my arms and I had skin hanging off my fingertips,” he said. “I was wearing a trucker hat that was now seared to my head. My back felt like it was on fire because my shirt was embedded in my flesh. It felt like the longest ambulance ride of my life.”
Upon arrival at the Arizona Burn Center, Dillon’s injuries were assessed and cleaned, and he was placed into a medically induced coma to help with the excruciating pain.
For most burn patients, there are a lot of obstacles to navigate when healing from a catastrophic burn, for Dillon, even sleeping was difficult because the pain was unbearable. His right arm and hand needed skin grafts. Valleywise Health surgeons took skin from his right thigh which made it nearly impossible for Dillon to walk for several days. Fine motor skills like pinching, using a fork, picking up something small was also very difficult for him.
“I dreaded eating because I couldn’t pick up a fork properly,” said Dillon. “The movements it took to eat was a major challenge. I had to relearn so many basic skills, things I had taken for granted most my life were now huge mountains to climb.”
Dillon had second and third degree burns over 25% of his body including wounds on his arms from fingertips to elbows, his back, his ears and his lips and face.
While at Valleywise Health, Dillon was placed in a room with his brother. Ultimately the roommate situation inspired both men to push their physical limits and prioritize their mental health.
“I was very fortunate to room with my brother during our stay at Valleywise,” Dillon said. “We pushed each other 24-hours a day to ensure we were going in the right direction with our healing – both mentally and physically. Everything he did, I tried to mimic. If he got up to stretch, I would get up too. We were able to balance off each other’s strengths and momentum and try to better ourselves as quickly as possible so we could be discharged and go home to our families.”
Originally, the doctors and surgeons at Valleywise anticipated Dillon would be in the hospital for two months. Thanks to his perseverance and dedication to “improving just 1% each day,” Dillon left the hospital less than three weeks after the explosion.
“I am forever grateful for Dr. Foster, countless physician assistants, nurses, therapists and everyone at Valleywise Health for helping me through the recovery process,” Dillon said. “They all worked together to put devise a plan to set me up for the rest of my life.”
“When I look at my scars today, they tell a story,” Dillon concluded. “For me, the scars remind me that I came through essentially the worst part of my life. This did not beat me. This did not defeat me. I can get through anything.”