They were watching over him on Dec. 26 when fumes from the gas can he was holding came in contact with flames from the wood stove in his rural Garden City machine shop.
And when that can exploded, saturating his jeans and work boots with gas and catching them on fire — burning both his legs so severely that they later had to be amputated slightly above the knee to save his life.
“I knew then it probably was going to be something that she couldn’t handle,” says Charlie, with a nod toward Sherry, who’s been at his side for the past 21 years and his wife for nearly 11.
“So I told the Lord to just take me and the greatest peace you’ve ever known came over me.”
God apparently had other plans for Charlie, who was flown to Wichita, where the couple encountered another group of angels: the physicians and staff at the Burn Center at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.
“They were kind and they listened to me,” says Charlie, who was in a medically induced coma for more than half of his nearly two-month stay in the Burn Center and thus has no memory of the pain.
Just as importantly, the Burn Center team — along with friends, family and even strangers — were there for Sherry, providing her the comfort Charlie could not.
“The nurses all say they fell in love with me first because I was there and was the one they could interact with,” says Sherry, noting that they checked in with her multiple times a day to ensure that she was getting the food and rest she needed.
“They ‘mother-henned’ me. And when I needed to cry, they would wrap their arms around me and just let me cry.”
They became so close, she says, that leaving was difficult.
“It took me hours to take down all the cards and letters from the wall and I cried the whole time,” says Sherry.
‘We were their own’
Charlie spent a month recovering in a long-term care facility located within Via Christi’s hospital on St. Francis. But before leaving to go to Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital, which has a program designed specifically for amputees, the Drussels returned to the Burn Center.
There, the team gathered to wish them well, all wearing the “Charlie’s Angels” shirts that friends in Garden City had made and were selling to benefit the Drussels.
“He had met half a dozen of them when they’d come to visit him, but he had no memories of the Burn Center,” says Sherry. “It was amazing. They just bonded with him instantly and for him it was like love at first sight.”
Sherry continued to receive TLC and support at Via Christi Rehabilitation Center, where the admitting nurse, hearing Sherry’s stomach growl, left and came back with a sandwich, pudding and coffee.
“They treated us like we were their own,” she says.
Home, sweet home
On May 1, the Drussels returned home to Garden City, where a standing-room-only car show and auction organized by friends and family held March 23 raised more than $60,000 to help with expenses.
When they turned onto the blacktop road leading to their home, it was lined with cars with yellow ribbons on the antenna and people honking and waving.
“I couldn’t believe I was home,” says Charlie. “I don’t know how to repay everyone.”