By Ryan Lengerich
What happened to Timothy Clem more than six years ago was a tragic accident. What has happened since then, his sister said, is a miracle.
On Sept. 1, 1997, Timothy was enjoying an afternoon at Greenbelt Lake outside Clarendon, Texas, near his hometown of Amarillo. His uncle was priming a carburetor with a cup of gasoline when a fire broke out. Instinctively, the uncle tossed the cup in the air and the flaming liquid landed on Timothy, consuming him in flames.
Timothy was 7.
His sister, Jennifer Lowry, was 18 when she saw her younger brother fighting for his life.
“When he caught fire and stopped, dropped and rolled he rolled in dead grass so it just burned more,” Lowry said.
Timothy was flown to a hospital in Lubbock. Lowry said her brother’s high tops were melted and his body badly burned. The fire spared only the skin on his feet, around his wet shorts, on half of his back and his face.
Timothy suffered burns on 77 percent of his body. Lowry said doctors told her mother the boy’s condition was critical.
“They told her when they first saw him that they don’t think he is going to make it but they’ll try their best,” Lowry said.
Timothy said doctors predicted the worst.
“They told me I might die; the only thing I could do was stay in the bed,” he said.
Timothy spent 51 days in the Lubbock hospital. Lowry said she had to wear hospital gloves, hair nets and masks as a precaution against germs when she saw her brother. Family members took turns visiting Timothy from their home in Amarillo.
“We had outrageous phone bills,” Lowry said.
But family members never wavered in their commitment to his recovery, she said.
“There were times when we would shower him, and we would have to climb in there with all of our clothes on and help him — it was crazy, it was sad,” she said.
Timothy quit breathing twice, only to be revived by doctors. Lowry said her mother didn’t know what to do.
“I was like, ‘All you can do, Mom, is pray; it is in God’s hands now. If it is his will … then he will live,’” Lowry said.
Timothy said her sister would bring him music and toys and visit him every weekend. He loved his sister’s company.
Even as the boy’s condition improved, doctors feared the boy would never walk again.
But less than two months after the accident, Timothy pushed a beeper button to alert his mother who was sleeping across the street at a Ronald McDonald house. Lowry was with her Mom that night and answered the call.
“He said, ‘I want to get up,’ so I looked at him and I was like, ‘Are you sure?’” Lowry said. “It took him a minute to get out of bed, then he stood there for a minute and he told me, ‘I can’t,’ and I said, ‘Yes you can, you’ve made it this far,’ but it hurt so bad.”
Timothy said it was his sister who gave him the strength he needed to stand and walk.
“She was there and she kept telling me, ‘You need to walk, you know,’ and I said OK. So I got up and walked for her,” Timothy said. “I wouldn’t walk for nobody else, it was just wonderful.”
Timothy walked slowly down the hospital hallway, arm-in-arm with his older sister and nurse. As they turned at the hallway’s end, the three looked up to see Timothy’s mother standing at the door, crying.
“She just cried and cried,” Lowry said.
Now a healthy 13-year-old Tucumcari Middle School student, Timothy has fully healed from his most recent surgery in June to repair webbed skin around his underarms. His sister, now a 25-year-old volunteer at the Tucumcari Senior Center, said the experience has made her realize the importance of family.
“I thank God every day for letting him live.”