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Burn victim now inspiring others in the classroom and community

RAINSVILLE, Ala. - 20 years ago this weekend, a DeKalb County boy was fighting for his life. Most would say that it’s a miracle Zach Mitchell is alive. To understand how he got to where he is now, you need to know what happened February 25th, 1997. Life is a journey.

“We were burning leaves and I made a mistake,” Zach recently told me. That mistake almost cost him his life when he was 10 years old. “I really didn’t know gasoline would blow up,” he said. “I thought it was like lighter fluid.” When he started to throw gasoline on a burning pile of leaves for a second time, his twin, Zane, told him he didn’t think it was a good idea. “I’m older than Zane by two minutes and 27 seconds so I wasn`t going to listen to him,” Zach said. “And when I poured, it blew up.”

Zach’s mother came running around the corner of the house and tackled him to put out the flames that were consuming his clothing. “I told her, I said mama, don’t let me die,” Zach recalls. “Please don’t let me die here.” Zach was burned over 86 percent of his body. His mother was burned on her arms and legs. He remembers it like it was yesterday saying, “My mom was sitting up here on a little bench and I looked at her and she had skin rolling off her arms and everything and she said don't worry about me, just focus on my baby. Just focus on my baby. And I blacked out.”

After being flown to a Chattanooga hospital, his family was told Zach’s best chance of survival was more than 400 miles away. “You call a hospital and there’s one room available, you know. That’s my room,” he said. Zach was flown to Shriner’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. “God had a plan for me and that was my room and that’s where I was going,” he said. “And it wasn’t for that room, I wouldn’t be here. Zach needed a miracle to live and walk out of the burn unit. “Doctors gave me a 10 percent chance to live,” he said. Zach beat the odds telling me, “Things happen for a reason.”

Rather than trying to figure out why something happens, time is better spent using what we do have t make a difference. Zach held up his hands and said, “You can see that I don’t have fingers. But I can write.” He wants people to know they can overcome any obstacle in life. “I want people to know that if they think their life is not where it needs to be, they can look at me and they can see that if I’m doing it every day, they can do it,” he said. His daily mission is to inspire other saying he wants to be “Somebody who’s giving hope to other people.”

He does that daily in the classroom. He now teaches at Plainview where he graduated. He works with students who need a little extra help with reading. “I love working with the kids,” he said with a smile. “And I love working and giving back to this community.” He wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “This is life, coming to school every day and being with your peers and the people who care about you,” he told me. “Being in the community, living in the community that did a lot for you when you were down, did a lot for your family. That’s life. That’s what it’s all about, people helping people.” Zach is also coaching the Plainview Junior High School baseball team. He hopes to soon start classes at the University of North Alabama to work on his master’s degree.

Zach Mitchell isn’t letting anything get in his way of living life. “No sir, I won’t,” he said. “I’m a fighter. That’s the way I was raised.” He and his family wouldn’t want it any other way. “They wouldn’t let me give up,” he told me. “And I thank God for that every day.”