Kewanee man ‘crawled through fire’ to escape home explosion

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois -- A Kewanee man says that a guardian angel is watching over him after surviving an explosion in his home on January 11, 2017.

Edd Bickers, 65, continues to recover from severe burns at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.

"Use the rails, Ed," advised physical therapist Hannah Shoaff.

Bickers measures success with small steps.

"You're going to go down with the left," she continued.

During one of his regular rehab sessions, he's stepping up to big challenges.

"Sometimes I don't get my foot high enough," Bickers said.  "Sometimes I catch the other one."

While playing computer solitaire, the Kewanee man was dealt a hand that nobody deserves.

"There was a loud bang," he recalled.  "Fire and flames everywhere."

Firefighters blame a faulty gas line for the explosion.

Bickers, who lives alone, emotionally remembers struggling to get out.

"I crawled through fire," he said.  "My hands were burned so bad.  That's something.  I can't stand it, but I did get out of there."

Charred debris, like a snapshot in time, convinces Edd that he wasn't alone.

"I didn't get a bunch of smoke and heat in my lungs," he continued.  "My nose wasn't burned.  My eyes didn't burn.  Nobody will make me believe any different that a guardian angel helped me get out of there."

By all accounts, Edd Bickers shouldn't have survived.  His remarkable effort says a lot about his ability to stick around.

"He's a trouper," said Nurse Nancy Mitchell.  "He's got such a great attitude."

On day three of rehab, that attitude will help to tackle many steps ahead.

"So many things we take for granted," he said.  "It's tough for me to get a sock on."

"Just that one little foot was a milestone," Mitchell added.

As the saying goes, these are baby steps to recovery.

"It's humbling," he said.  "It's amazing."

A loving community is backing Bickers with a variety of fundraisers and events to help him get back on his feet.

"Sometimes we forget, but people do care," he said.

While neighbors, friends and insurance help to replace the rubble, Bickers fuels his next steps with motivation and gratitude.

"He feels like this could be so much worse," Mitchell said.  "He's still here to talk about it today."

That realization is inspiring the long rehab and therapy sessions still to come.

"Don't take anything for granted," he concluded.  "Just be appreciative and enjoy everything you've got because you might not be here the next day."

A "Words of Encouragement Night for Edd Bickers" takes place from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, February 2, 2017.  Hosted by Team H.O.P.E., at the Kewanee Public Library, 102 S. Tremont Street,  the public will make crafts, cards and pictures to speed his recovery. Everyone is encouraged to participate.

Additional fundraisers and support are also in the works to help Edd Bickers.