Burn victim tells cautionary tale on how severe Arizona's heat is

An Arizona burn survivor is opening up for the first time about his scary ordeal after he suffered second-degree burns after falling on the hot ground in his backyard.

He hopes his story will serve as a reminder for everyone to be more careful outside during our extreme summer heat.

For 71-year-old Robert Woolley, a retired teacher and former Navy fighter pilot, he believes he's a walking miracle.

Last summer, he wouldn't have imagined he would be where he is now.

"I wish it was someone else that was here talking about my contact burn and not myself," he said.

On July 3, 2023, Woolley was in his backyard when he got distracted by something, lost his balance and fell. He ended up suffering second-degree burns on 15% of his body.

"When I was pushing on the rocks, they moved, but I didn't. I pushed until I couldn't stand anymore, and I looked at my hands and the skin had peeled off my palms like the skin of an onion. It looked like raw hamburger underneath, and I couldn't use my hands anymore," Woolley said.

After spending several minutes on the ground, his wife and son were able to pull him inside. That's when he was rushed to Valleywise Health's Arizona Burn Center.

"Then they did two hours of surgery, cutting away burned skin. Let it cook for another four days, did more hours of surgery, cut away the rest of the dead skin and did the skin graft," he said.

Woolley spent five months at the center dealing with a rollercoaster-like recovery.

"It was traumatic both physically and psychologically," he said. "My heart kept racing every single day with irregular beats."

He says he's almost fully healed and is thankful for the treatment he received.

"The treatment I got here was awesome," he said. "I feel like I'm about 95% healed, and I'm looking forward to the day when it's just scars and memories."

Woolley has advice for seniors who might say this can't happen to them.

"As a senior, if you fall, it's harder and harder to get up," he said. "The air is hot, but the ground is unbelievably hot."

The Arizona Burn Center at Valleywise Health has treated nearly three dozen contact burn patients so far this summer.

Learn more about Valleywise Health's Arizona Burn Center by clicking here.