A rogue firework sent 11-year-old Robert Taylor Jr. to the hospital last Fourth of July.
“Originally after the injury, he said he never wanted to do Fourth of July again,” his mother, MaryJo Taylor, said this week.
Robert was at a big barbecue at a friend’s house in Graham last Independence Day. He was about 15 to 20 feet away from where explosives were being set off about 10:30 p.m.
“One of the mortar tubes didn’t set the firework off high enough, so it exploded near the ground,” MaryJo Taylor said. “A huge chunk of the cardboard, probably about two inches long by maybe an inch wide, popped up and hit my son in the face on the right side.”
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The cardboard embedded in Robert’s skin, and had to be surgically removed.
“It just took one time for a malfunctioning firework, and it did this damage,” his mother said.
Fire crews took the family to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Doctors then sent them to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. And the family eventually was sent to Seattle Children’s Hospital – about four days in hospitals total.
Robert was one of about 40 people with fireworks-related injuries that Harborview saw between July 3 and July 5 in 2014. A third of those patients were children. The injuries ranged in severity. One person’s were fatal.
“These are often life-changing injuries,” said Dr. Eileen Bulger, chief of trauma at Harborview. “You can lose digits on your hand, you could lose your whole hand. You could lose sight in an eye.”
She said fireworks shouldn’t be handled by young children, and that older children should be closely supervised when using them.
It’s also important for people to not hold fireworks in their their hands while lighting them or to lean over the explosives or point them at others, she said.
And if a firework doesn’t go off, she cautions not to pick it up.
“Someone thinks it’s a dud and they try to relight it or pick it up, and that can generally lead to an explosion in somebody’s hand,” Bulger said.
Even small fireworks such as sparklers (which burn at 2,000 degrees) can cause injuries, particularly in little kids, she said.
In Robert’s case, the blast shattered three of the 10 major nerves on Robert’s face.
“They had to reconstruct the nerves,” his mother said. “He couldn’t raise his eyebrow. He couldn’t wrinkle his nose. And the right side of his face was slack.”
Robert didn’t like how he looked in school photos. And it was a bummer, he said, that he didn’t get to swim last summer after the accident.
The way he remembers it, he “couldn’t do anything outside or fun.”
His recovery has gone well, and he has function back on the right side of his face. He can “finally blink and not have to manually open and close” his eye, he said.
He will undergo minor surgery in August to help reduce the size of his scar, in part to prevent additional nerve damage.
Until then, he’s enjoying the summer before starting seventh grade. He likes swimming, football and baseball. Playing the video game “Call of Duty” and going to 7-Eleven to buy energy drinks is what he and friends do for fun.
Seeing his father’s face after riding roller coasters as Disney World was the highlight of a recent vacation.
“I forced him onto like four,” Robert said.
As for this year’s Fourth of July celebration, he will be going to the same celebration in Graham on Saturday.
But the plan is for everyone to be farther away from any fireworks, and to focus on small ones, such as sparklers and mini-poppers.
“I feel fine about it, because we’re going to take extra safety precautions this year and back away from all of the fireworks,” Robert said. “And no mortars.
“Even if you take as much safety precautions as you can, there’s always that chance that something bad will happen.”
Taylor said she encourages other families to focus on the smaller explosives.
“No matter how many times it’s been OK the last time, it just takes one time for something like this to happen,” she said. “No matter how much you think you’re in control of the fireworks you’re doing, there’s no control of mishaps or misfires.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268