Retired veteran and burn survivor, Manny Gonzalez, aims to give back

We would like to pay tribute to all Veterans and their families for serving our country. The Phoenix Society Burn Survivors would especially like to recognize those in our community who have been injured in the line of duty. We honor your service today and every day!

Celebrating the amazing stories of burn survivors that are often untold, today we’re profiling Manny Gonzalez, a burn survivor and retired veteran from the Marine Corps.

He was 20 years old, serving in the Marine Corps, before a brush fire during a routine training exercise in 1996 altered Manny Gonzalez’s life plan.

After suffering second and third degree burns to 80 percent of his body, the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) specialist spent the next three months hospitalized. He underwent the challenging surgeries and aggressive physical therapy associated with burn injuries, spending time at both the UC San Diego Regional Burn Unit and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. But the physical immobility and limitations made way for the emotional toll. And that, according to Manny, was the most challenging.

“I knew my life had changed, and things wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “I had made making the Marine Corps a career.”

He medically retired from the Corps in 1998.

Manny Gonzalez is thriving again after suffering a burn injury in 1998. He now aims to be an advocate for other burn survivors.

Manny Gonzalez is thriving again after suffering a burn injury in 1998. He now aims to be an advocate for other burn survivors.

Behind the strength and support of his family, Manny exceeded the recovery expectations of his surgeons, regaining almost complete mobility. “In all honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what kind of life I would have right now,” he said.

During his recovery process, Manny found additional support when he attended the Phoenix Society’s 2002 World Burn Congress in Phoenix, Arizona.

“It was my first experience being associated with a large group of survivors, hearing different stories of everyone who experienced different accidents, but most importantly, how they overcame them,” said Manny, who is on the program committee for the 2012 World Burn Congress in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Now 35, Manny is using his experience and the impact of the Phoenix Society to focus on advocacy, prevention, motivation and peer support with other service members affected by burn injury. He is attending a Phoenix Society advocacy class in November, and his next move is to reach out to fellow veterans like J.R. Martinez and Bobby Henline.

“I’d like to initially help along with what they’re doing,” he said.

During this Veterans Day, Manny plans to attend a small get-together of veterans from the Houston, Texas area, where he resides. The group reflects on their friends who still serve both domestically and abroad, while sharing stories of their own. As far as he is concerned, his story is one of recovery, renewal, and thriving again.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.

The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is the only national organization helping burn survivors everywhere get back to living. Join the effort to support programs like World Burn Congress that provide burn survivors with the community and tools they need to thrive again.  Don’t wait. . . Donate Today!

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