4.7 min readPublished On: September 29, 2023

Counting His Blessings After 70 Percent Burns

After overcoming severe burns to his body, Clermont PD’s Kris Kruse lives each day with gratitude.

Looking at Clermont Police Dept. Patrol Sgt. Kris Kruse, you’d never know that seven years ago he was lying in a hospital fighting for his life after being badly burned in an off-duty bonfire accident.

Kris, then a 21-year-old rookie officer with the department, was covered in burning gasoline and engulfed in flames when a gas can he attempted to move away from the heat exploded in his hands.

After being airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), no one was sure he’d make it through the night.

“My understanding is that the doctors basically said it was up to my body what happens and that it was a flip of a coin whether I was going to survive,” Kris says. “It ended up I had 70 percent burns over my body, most of which required skin grafting.”

Doctors considered using fish, cadaver, pig, or donor skin, to help heal his wounds, but decided against it. 

“None of those options would work, so they ended up cutting skin off less affected parts of me, which in turn made recovery interesting,” Kris says. “Ultimately, my entire body was affected in some way, shape or form.” 

After eight days at ORMC, Kris was transferred to the ICU at Shand’s Burn Clinic in Gainesville, his home for the next three months. There, he underwent many painful procedures, including escharotomies, incisions to relieve swelling/pressure, multiple skin grafts, and debridement (surgical removal of foreign matter and dead tissue from a wound), and scraping of burned skin to remove scabs.

“Surgeries were done under anesthesia, but the debridement was done while I was awake in a room called ‘The Tank,’” Kris says, explaining that the room was outfitted with a steel surgical table and hoses hanging from the ceiling used to spray patients off. “I have a pretty hateful relationship with the tank, but it was a necessity.”

Through the ordeal, he was never alone. 

“There was seldom a time I didn’t have someone in the hospital room with me. Even if I wasn’t up to talking, there was a huge comfort in rolling over, opening my eyes, and seeing a familiar face,” Kris recalls. 

The community also rallied around him. A Go Fund Me account was established to help with medical bills, and people wore “KrisStrong” and “PrayForKris,” shirts in his honor. 

Additionally, people from all over the world prayed for Kris’ recovery following a Facebook post his dad and fellow officer Jack Kruse made on behalf of Kris’ mom Jill and their whole family that went viral. 

Jack’s post, shared the day after the accident, read, “Please pray for my son, Kris Kruse, the best child any parent could hope for. He needs to fight for his life in the short term and, if God willing, he comes through, he has a very, very long road to recovery ahead. He is currently stable, but incubated with a breathing tube and cannot have visitors … There is nothing more difficult for a parent than to see their child suffering.”

After that, Jack posted daily updates throughout Kris’ recovery for the hundreds of thousands of people following his story. Today, Kris says people he’s never met still reach out on Facebook to ask how he is doing. Locals often come up to say ‘hi’ and tell him they prayed for him.  

Kris says he credits those prayers, plus unwavering support and love from hospital staff, fellow officers, friends, family, and his girlfriend Liz (now his wife), for his release from the hospital just three-and-a-half months later.

“I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today without that. It was crucial,” Kris says, adding that keeping a positive attitude and focusing on his end goal of returning to work—his dream job since childhood—gave him the physical and mental strength to endure nearly a year of grueling occupational and physical therapy. 

He accepts his ‘new normal,’ but Kris says there are limitations and occasional challenges that serve as reminders of the Superbowl Sunday that shifted the trajectory of his life. 

Kris says he lost dexterity and strength in his right hand, so he trained to shoot and grip things with his left. The burns also killed most of Kris’ sweat glands, making it difficult for him to withstand hot temperatures, so he’s remained on the overnight shift since returning to work.

Nicknames like “Krispy” and other terms of endearment bestowed by friends and fellow officers make Kris laugh, and he makes it a habit not to dwell on the ‘whys’ surrounding his accident. He’s just happy to be alive and believes all he’s gone through has made him a more empathetic officer.

“There are many times I’ve been able to use my story as kind of an inspiration, or to encourage someone to fight the fight, even if their injuries or troubles are not related to burns,” Kris says. “I just try to remind them to have hope and not give up, emotionally, medically, and every other way, through everything, no matter what.”

Kris says that type of encouragement goes both ways too, telling how a man he knows only from Facebook, reaches out every Feb. 7; the date of the “burniversary” they share. 

“You can’t help but think about it as the day your life changed forever, but I made it through, so when he says “Happy Burniversary,” it makes me look back at where I came from and appreciate how far I’ve come, that’s for sure.”

About the Author: Roxanne Brown

Roxanne Brown

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