Before he got his left eyelid back, Taron Pounds wondered if he would have to relearn how to blink.
The past year has been a series of adjustments and uncertainties for Pounds.
He no longer has a hole in his left cheek. His doctor recently removed the tape from his new eyelid. And he isn't bothered any more by the occasional looks he gets in public — largely because, his injuries don't define who he is.
Pounds is a 23-year-old Tulsan who lost half his face in a fireworks accident. But there's a lot more to Pounds than what happened to him last July.
“I'm done crying, worrying, freaking out,” he said. “There are some days when I'm just really not feeling too hot, or I really don't want to get out, but everybody's got those days.”
‘I want to light one'
It only took a few seconds to end what had been a fun night. Pounds and his family were in Inola celebrating his cousin's wedding and the Fourth of July.
A band had just started playing, and Pounds noticed family and friends setting off fireworks.
“I saw one of the big ones go off, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to light one of those,'” he said.
They were setting off professional-grade fireworks from a plastic pipe that was buried in the ground and mounted in concrete.
He placed a mortar shell in the pipe and lit the fuse. The problem was the firework had two fuses, and Pounds lit the short one.
He put his arm up almost at the same time it hit him in the face. Instantly, his ears were ringing loudly. Everything was black. He could hear people calling his name.
For a second, he thought he was OK.
He tried to get up, and someone told him to get back down. He felt his jaw move in a way it shouldn't have. Pounds laid down and started to feel the pain. About 10 seconds later, he blacked out.
“I remember people saying, ‘Get some ice! Call 911!' I faded in and out. I could hear an ambulance arrive, someone saying, ‘Get him stable,'” he said. “I remember actually seeing blue and red flashing lights. But my next memories were all in the coma.”
At the hospital, Pounds would wake up from delusions and dreams that felt real. He would explain to his mom that Kevin Durant was hurt in an OKC Thunder game, and Pounds needed to sub in the game. He was mad at his mother because she wouldn't get him his basketball uniform.
It brought humor to Tammy Pounds' nightmare. At first, she didn't know if her son was strong enough to make it. But over the past year, she has seen Taron grow into a more empathetic person.
“He looks deeper at other people because he wants people to look deeper at him now,” she said. “I'm so tired of saying I'm amazed with him. I want another word. I don't know what the word is, though ... He has pulled through with flying colors, and we still have a long way to go, but we're getting there.”
‘Lucky to be alive'
Dr. Trinitia Cannon hasn't seen a lot of patients with injuries as extensive as Pounds, mainly because most don't survive.
Cannon, an ear, nose and throat specialist at OU Physicians, has worked with a team of doctors to perform about six surgeries so far to reconstruct Pounds' face.
“He is not only lucky to be alive — he's lucky to be intellectually intact,” she said. “A lot of these facial traumas cause a lot of traumatic brain injury ... things that, from an intellectual standpoint, are hard to recover from.”
Pounds has extra skin that came from his chest that's attached to his face. Doctors have left the skin because they plan to use it for Pounds' next surgery.
In August, doctors will tuck the extra skin into Pounds' left cheek to give it some bulk. They will also use it to lift his left eye so that it will sit in a more natural position. Once they're done, they'll remove it.
Doctors don't know yet whether Pounds will be able to fully see out of his left eye. An eye surgeon will perform a corneal transplant, among other surgeries, to see if they can help him regain his vision. Right now, he can see shadows.
“We're getting there,” Cannon said.
‘Happy to be here'
The first time he talked to one of his fraternity brothers after the accident, his friend told him, “I'm really happy you're still here.”
“I'm happy to be here,” Pounds responded.
It's a phrase often said nonchalantly at bars or weddings or birthday parties. But Pounds really did mean it.
He plans to title the book he has been working on “Happy to Be Here,” inspired by that conversation. The book is about the post-traumatic growth he has experienced.
Before the accident, he never would have thought to write a book. He was a college student who partied a lot and didn't live for himself. That Taron hasn't returned since the accident, though.
“I'm realizing what's more important in life now, stripping away the vanity and what society says you should be,” he said. “That has really done a lot for me and has made me happy.”
I'm realizing what's more important in life now, stripping away the vanity and what society says you should be.”
Pounds, 23, lost