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Despite heat, kitchen return on track

August 14, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

For a short time after the accident, Dustin Holley wasn't sure he could ever face going back to the kitchen again. But the 18-year-old aspiring chef is better now, and is looking forward to resuming his dream of becoming a culinary expert.

If will take another year to get back on the path, because for now Holley can't stand the heat of a restaurant kitcken. That's because he sustained severe burns on his chest and face this past May 9, during a cooking lesson at the Washington County Technical High School.

Three students were working together on a chicken flambe dish when one of them poured cooking liquor into a pan on the stove. It ignited and flashed back on the students, burning all three, Holley most seriously.

"I spent a month in the hospital. I had third-degree burns to my face, shoulders, neck and chest. And I had skin grafts done, so I had some skin taken off my thigh," he said.

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Just a few months later, Holley said only one of the wounds still needs a dressing, but he goes to Baltmore for rehabilitation a couple of times a week.

The wound, he said, "is a bit larger than a golf ball, but a little bit smaller than a baseball."

He had been working at Dairy Queen, but will have to stay away from the stove until next May, he said.

"They said I could come back as soon as I get better," he said.

To support himself until he can work again, he said "I'm applying for temporary disability, but that could take a month."

To make sure the wounds heal properly, Holley wears a neck splint that goes up to his chin. He'll also wear a face mask and a special jacket which are designed to compress the burned areas to minimize scarring and stop them from itching.

He passes the time, he said, by sitting, reading books and watching TV.

He's living with friends in Smithsburg now, although he had been in foster care in Clear Spring. But after the accident, he became very withdrawn and didn't want to talk to anyone.

"They interpreted it as disrespect," Holley said, adding that although he has family in Baltimore, "I've been here all my life."

Holley's mood brightens when he talks about what he really likes to do - cook.

"I always liked to cook and when the people from Culinary Arts came to Smithsburgh (High School) in 1998, I decided to go," he said.

After the accident, he felt he might never go into a restaurant kitchen, where the typical stove has a gas flame, but he said he's over that fear now.

"I still want to cook, but I can't be in the kitchen now because I can't take the heat," he said.

"My favorite thing to make and the thing I like making is garnishes for plates," he said.

With just a paring knife, Holley said, he can turn tomatoes and other vegetables into flowers and other shapes.

"I can make a lot of things," he said.

His favorite meat for recipes is chicken.

"I like to do different stuff with chicken. After I get better I'm going to Frederick Community College" to pursue a culinary arts degree.

Asked if he'll really be able to handle the stress of working in an environment where he was injured, Holley saidat first he was afraid to return, but is now looking forward to it.

"This didn't happen because of what I did. This happened because somebody else didn't do what they were supposed to do," he said.

And so for now, he waits.

"A year from now, by next spring, I should be back to normal," he said.

The Washington County School System is helping Holley with his convalesence. Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Patti Abernathy arranged for a special account for him at the Rite Aid pharamacy in Smithsburg and for someone in the system to drive him to Baltimore for rehabilitation appointments.

Talking to Holley reminded me once again that life's little aches and pains are insignificant compared with what he's gone through. No one could blame him if he decided to leave that hot stove to someone else, but he's determined to get back to it as soon as he can. My only worry now is that his drive will transform him into a chef who is so good I won't be able to afford one of his meals.

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It's election time again and the Washngton County chapter of the group known as Kids Voting needs volunteers to staff its local polling places. The organization was born in 1988 when three Arizona businessmen on a fishing trip to Costa Rica observed the local practice of children accompanying their parents to the polls.

Turnout in Costa Rioca is routinely about 80 percent, so the trio came home and devised a program that allows children to vote in straw polls the same day as their parents cast ballots. Kids Voting stations will be set up along every polling place in Washington County, but volunteers are needed to staff them.

If you're part of a group that believes voter turnout is important, why not volunteer on Election Day? To do so, contact Carolyn Shaw, chairman of the Kids Voting board, at 301-790-6296.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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