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Ray Duckler: A flash, an explosion, a fire, now a long road back

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Chrissy James looked into her husband’s eyes and noticed the light was out.

She’s sure Jonny Ferguson, badly burned during a chemical explosion last month at his engineering job, knew her as he looked up from his bed at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Still . . .

“He recognizes who I am, but it’s not the same kind of expression I would usually see,” James said. “I’m guessing that’s because with the medication, it’s hard to have the emotions come through.”

James and Ferguson are a young couple from Contoocook whose lives, once rich with potential, are now steeped in heartache.

On Nov. 5, the 26-year-old Ferguson, a carefree prankster who once played soccer at Merrimack Valley High School, was injured during an explosion at Powderpart, a manufacturing company in Woburn, Mass., that uses something called laser melting during production.

A week after the incident, the Woburn Advocate reported that fire and police officials determined Ferguson was using an improperly grounded vacuum to clean up titanium powder, “and a buildup of static charge inside the vacuum ignited the dust, causing an explosion and subsequent small fire.”

James, citing an ongoing investigation and advice from her lawyer, declined to discuss the accident.

But she and Ferguson’s stepfather, Paul Sorrenty of Penacook, spoke about Ferguson’s injuries, saying he suffered second- and third-degree burns over 65 to 70 percent of his body.

James said Ferguson’s hands – burned the worst – and back, arms and legs were injured in the accident. His face was not affected, and he suffered no brain damage.

James’s first visits to the hospital shocked her system.

“At first it was very horrific seeing my husband in that kind of state,” she said. “It was scary; I don’t know how else to word that. It was terrifying.”

She’s not sure how many surgical procedures and skin grafts Ferguson has undergone, saying, “Gosh, unfortunately I feel like I’ve lost count of the surgeries at this point. I’d say he’s had six or seven, and he still has four or five to go, maybe less.”

Through the ordeal, James says she and her family, on both sides, have grown tighter, even reconnected.

Concerning her relationship with her mother, she said, “I guess we have been brought closer together more recently than we had been in the past.”

She continued: “I’ve met a lot of Jonny’s cousins and aunts and uncles who I’ve met in the past but wasn’t able to grow close to because Jonny and I worked so much.”

They met at Constantly Pizza in Penacook, where he was her boss. They married about a year ago. She described her husband as “happy-go-lucky, a jokester.”

She still works at Constantly, and a fundraiser at the other branch, on South Main Street in Concord, is planned for Sunday morning from 7 to 10 ($10 breakfast, all you can eat).

She’s also revisiting her love for horses. She first rode shortly after learning to walk, and she owned a horse growing up on Pleasant Street, down the street from the hospital.

Her mother worked with her and she became a good rider. But the horse was sold while James was in college in Maine, after she’d lost the passion she once felt.

Recently, though, she came upon her old instructor on Facebook and is again working with him. She also spends three days a week at barns in Canterbury and Grantham, grooming the horses there, saddling and bridling them, and walking them.

Now, she wants to train horses, a goal she once had long ago.

“It’s helpful in keeping me busy and helping me to sleep at night with what’s going on now in my life,” James said. “I’m trying to make a career out of this. It’s not just like a hobby; it’s kind of a lifestyle, and I have crazy aspirations.”

That’s on hold. Ferguson has another two months in the hospital, at least, before heading to rehab for another few months.

“They’re hoping for a full recovery,” James said, “but it’s kind of blurry looking at the road between now and later.”

Meanwhile, James continues to visit Ferguson in Boston, hoping the pain medication he needs will decrease, and the spark in his eyes and conversations they used to enjoy will return.

“It’s almost like a blank stare,” James said. “He can’t talk very well, and it’s hard to understand him sometimes. He says he loves me and he wants to know how I’m doing. Very simple stuff.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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