Aaron Francis, of Perry, was life flighted to Iowa City after suffering from first, second and third degree burns at Tyson Foods Inc. on Dec. 4. After spending two weeks away from his residence in Perry, his skin is still in the beginning stages of healing.
Outside, Francis wears tight sleeves that bandage his arms. His daughter, Maisa, 3, is careful when she toddles over to give him a quick hug. He loses his skin in the shower each day, which is part of the healing process, he explains.
There will be more trips to Iowa City for doctor’s appointments and potential surgeries.
The road to recovery is a lengthy trip, but this isn’t the first time Francis has had to heal.
“This just kind of icing on the cake,” Francis says while motioning to his arms.
Francis has now survived three incidents in his life of which death was a possibility.
Francis has PTSD from his two tours in Iraq. The disorder is under control, Francis describes, but oftentimes makes him upset, leading to hyperventilation or potentially fainting.
Francis was in line to become a Puppy Jake Recipient.
The call came in when he was recovering at the hospital in Iowa City.
Francis will still get to use the service, but the program will now be pushed back to the fall instead of the spring.
Around 2005, he worked as a Forward Observer in the army.
Prior to his entrance in the army, he managed two restaurants in the Des Moines area and described himself as a go-getter in his career.
He began to see news programs discuss the Iraq war on television in the restaurants he managed.
“I wanted to do something for my country,” Francis said.
After entering basic training, Francis was later moved to additional training in Georgia where his family relocated. Later, he was stationed in Iraq.
“I wasn’t there for 24 hours before I realized how bad it was,” Francis said. “It was like boots on the ground; the first thing we do is we respond to an IED [bomb], and so we have all of the trucks and everybody is pulling security and people start shooting at us.”
As a Forward Observer, Francis belonged to Artillery, but was attached mainly to the Infantry unit.
“The first appointment was pretty rough,” Francis said. “I had to do a lot of stuff I signed up to do.”
Francis shared the same responsibility as two other men whom he became friends with.
The three became gunners, tasked with the role to knock down buildings and protect their unit.
They called for the take down of units that housed the bad guys, Francis says.
“I still have to see everything,” Francis said. “We have to go and check and make sure how many are dead.”
But the three had each other to talk with, oftentimes describing incidents of adrenaline or leaning on one another for support.
“We would just sit and cry,” Francis said.
Memories from the service were packed in his bags when he arrived back home, welcoming him back into a life he no longer was familiar with.
“Nobody felt right at home,” Francis said. “Nobody was used to anything.”
He began to hate crowds and wanted to stay alone in a room but couldn’t.
When it was time to go back, Francis felt Iraq provided more routine than life back home.
Francis started his next job as a Corporal in a higher-ranking position.
They relocated to a new part of Iraq, a location in which they were not favored by the citizens.
“This time it’s different because it’s more low key – we had crazy stuff – but not all the time,” Francis said.
This tour involved more foot patrol, as well as more structure.
Around eight months into the deployment, Francis recalls an instance which continues to haunt him to this day.
“We are in the Bradley’s [war vehicle] getting ready to go do the same thing we always do, which by then is pretty predictable,” Francis said. “They were going to drop us off, I was in the middle Bradley, the first Bradley went through this road it was fine and we followed.”
Shortly after, Francis heard a boom and everything went black.
“I’m upside down and I’m yelling for people because there’s six [soldiers] in the back and nobody is answering me,” Francis said.
Francis was airlifted in Iraq back to base, stabilized and then taken to Baghdad. Once he was stabilized long enough to travel, he went to Germany, and then Francis went back to Georgia.
It was 2007 when Francis was medically retired.
“I have a T.B.I., traumatic brain injury, I have P.T.S.D., and I broke my leg down by my ankle and my hip got shattered,” Francis said.
After arriving home, Francis began to have night terrors and reoccurring manic episodes.
“I pretty much ruined myself at that point,” Francis said. “I didn’t think anything through.”
Francis says pieces of his life began to fall apart: his checking account, his marriage, his sanity.
In 2011, everything started to fall back into place, he says.
Francis asked to be weaned off his medication hoping to focus on his family, on being a father and repairing pieces of his life.
He met Rebecca Boden and the two now have a three-year-old daughter, Maisa.
“I came over and I just kind of never left,” Francis said about meeting Rebecca.
Living in Des Moines at the time, the family decided to move to Perry in order to be closer to Tyson Foods Inc., a corporation that took Francis in with open arms.
“I told them from the git-go, I didn’t lie, I told them about PTSD and told them I have panic attacks,” Francis said. “They accepted me and I’ve had my deals there – I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve had rage attacks there.”
“Days where I just couldn’t get up and I was late – they tolerate me.”
Francis has been there for three years and worked as a Rendering Mechanic for two.
On Monday, Dec. 4, an incident involving steam was reported at the Tyson Plant. Four were injured and two were seriously injured.
Francis was one of the two who suffered from serious burns and was life flighted to Iowa City.
Tyson issued an updated reponse to The Perry Chief in regards to the Dec. 4 incident on Monday, Dec. 18: “Our two team members have been released from the hospital.”
Aaron’s body was damaged from the steam incident: the front-side of both of Aaron’s arms have second-degree burns, and his wrist has third-degree burns; the top of his chest has first-degree burns and his stomach has second-degree burns; Aaron was burnt on both sides of his groin area, mixed with both second and third-degree burns.
“I hope when I’m better I can go back to work,” Francis said.
Healing will take time, however.
“Before I can go back to Rendering – two years,” Francis said.
In addition, it could take up to six months before Francis can go back to working light duties.
“That skin graph has to heal adequately before they are okay with it,” said significant other, Rebecca Boden. “Once he goes back to light duty, they are talking a year and a half between two years before the doctor wants him to be exposed to any kind of heat – above being outside.”
The family anticipates weekly visits to Iowa City, which could later lead into potential surgeries.
“The amount of support from people is crazy,” Francis said. “A lot of people have come [over].”
Francis has had friends fix their plumbing, provide the family with a chair for Francis to shower in, as well as bring his vehicle home from the Tyson Foods Inc. parking lot.
The Elks Lodge has planned a benefit for Francis as way to further help during his healing process.
“While a firm date has not been set, Perry Elks Lodge #407 will be hosting a benefit in January for our friends and fellow members, Aaron Francis and Rebecca Boden,” said Chad Morman, Exalted Ruler of the Perry Lodge.“Our motto, Elks Care, Elks Share, reminds us we do things for our community when it needs help.”
“We also provide help to our members in times of need, hosting a benefit is the least we can do to help out.”
Since Francis’ accident, Rebecca had to drop her in-home daycare business, which provided the family with grocery and additional funds, in order to care for Francis.
For those interested in helping the Francis family, the Elks Lodge will be accepting and collecting all immediate donations prior to the benefit at the facility.