AUSTELL, Ga - It's been a long 4 months for Taylor Duke.
"I've had over 30 surgeries since I've been here," says the 19-year old."
The story of how this Moultrie college student ended up in WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell, GA, is difficult to hear.
Taylor has been hunting his whole life. And that's what he was doing January 23, 2016 at a remote camp near Cuthbert, Georgia, when Taylor tried to light a fire.
"I pouring diesel on the campfire, and when I bent over, someone had also mixed gas with the diesel,"
he says. "And when I poured it on there, the can exploded."
Velda Duke, Taylor's mom, got a frantic call from his girlfriend.
"She said, 'Miss Velda, he has been burned!'" Velda remembers. "And I said, 'Where has he been burned?' She said, 'All over! Really bad!"
It was beyond bad. Taylor arrived at WellStar Cobb with third-degree burns on nearly 70% of his body.
Becca Coley, Nurse Manager of Burn Services, says Taylor was in critical condition.
"It was a dire situation," Coley says. "He needed to have surgery. He needed to be cleaned up."
Taylor's age and strength helped.
He was also a candidate for a rarely-performed procedure using his own biopsied skin to grow more skin to cover his acute burns.
"It's called a Cultured Epithelial Autograft," says Becca Coley.
Doctors biopsied a postage-stamp sized piece of non-burned skin from under Taylor's arm.
They sent it to the Vericel Corporation, a biomedical company in Boston, that develops the Epicel skin grafts.
The company used that piece of skin to grow grafts of healthy skin tissue in a lab.
Each piece is about the size of a deck of cards.
"From a small biopsy, you can grow as much skin as you need to cover him three times over," says Becca Coley. "You just continue and continue to grow."
In 3 to 4 weeks, Vericel grew 130 sheets of skin that were placed in a temperature controlled, sterile container then shipped straight to the OR. Surgeons placed the grafts like a patchwork quilt over Taylor's burns.
"When they put it on me, they had to put me on ventilator because I had to be still so that it would take," says Taylor.
For the next two weeks, Taylor could barely move, requiring around-the-clock nursing.
"Even though this is his own skin, it's very fragile and it's very thin," says Becca Coley. "So the real big part of this procedure and the successfulness of it, comes from the nursing staff and how they take care of him in the days following the placement of the CEA skin."
Taylor's new skin took, and then he tackled his next challenge: inpatient rehabilitation.
"Physical therapy has been tough," he says. "But I've been motivated, because I'm ready to go home."
Full healing will take a long time. But Taylor's new skin feels like a new start.
"It's going to be smooth when it's healed in 2 to 3 years," his mother says. "I mean, that's just amazing. To have smooth skin, after all he's been through."