Severely Burned Marine Finds Strength In Nascent Marriage | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Severely Burned Marine Finds Strength In Nascent Marriage

Play associated audio

In June 2008, Marine Cpl. Anthony Villarreal was driving back from a mission in Afghanistan when his truck was hit by a roadside bomb. He was 22 at the time and recently married to Jessica, who was just 21.

Villarreal suffered third-degree burns over most of his face and body and was very severely disfigured. His right arm and the fingers on his left hand eventually had to be amputated.

"I remember trying to breathe. I just felt, like, real hot — like I was on fire. They were dragging me on the sand and there was rocks there ... and it hurt, but I couldn't scream," he says. "And so I remember just laying there, feeling the hot sun and then feeling the wind from the helicopter coming in. And the doctor said, 'You'll be home soon.' "

Back home in Texas, the doctors asked Jessica Villarreal to identify her husband, as if he "had died or something." Jessica could only see Anthony's eyes and lips, since he was covered in bandages.

"And then they showed me the extent of the burn, how it went straight to the bone," she says. "They told me, 'We can't salvage the tissue,' so I had to sign papers saying that it was OK for them to amputate."

Anthony woke up after three months of a drug-induced coma and had to "learn everything that a baby has to learn."

"I didn't even recognize myself," he says. "After the first time I saw myself in the mirror, that's when I just broke down. I really thought that my life was over. Kept thinking, what was I going to do? How am I going to get a job?"

Jessica was steadfast: "I just knew that you needed me and I was going to be there."

But it was hard for Anthony to avoid thinking she might leave him.

"Because a lot of people, they don't want to be seen with someone that was ugly. What was it, like 70-plus surgeries, skin grafts? I really didn't want to leave the house," he says. "I just thought to myself, man, people don't know how to ask questions. They just want to stare and point."

He's thankful his wife stuck by him.

"The crazy thing is I'm still more self-conscious about what I look like than you are," Jessica tells him. "But I have grown so much over the past five years. I didn't ever think that I'd be as strong as I am today and most of it is from you. I can't imagine you not being in my life."

Today, the couple is attending college together.

They've been through "so much in so little time," Anthony says. "There shouldn't be anything that could tear us apart besides death itself."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Yasmina Guerda.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Out Of Ukraine, This 'Suitcase' Packs An Immigrant's Story With Humor

Ari Shapiro talks with first-time novelist Yelena Akhtiorskaya about her book, Panic in a Suitcase.
NPR

McDonald's Responsible For Treatment Of Workers, Agency Says

The National Labor Relations Board has found that McDonald's shares responsibility for working conditions at its franchised restaurants. The company will fight the ruling.
WAMU 88.5

Activists Protest Federal Minimum Wage, Saying Increase Doesn't Cut It

Protestors gathered outside Union Station to protest what they consider a paltry federal minimum-wage hike.
NPR

OkCupid Sometimes Messes A Bit With Love, In The Name Of Science

OkCupid, the online dating site, disclosed Monday that they sometimes manipulate their users' profiles for experiments.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.