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Vehicle Fire Creates Uncertain Future for Survivor

Ed Heath - 700 Club Producer

May 31, 2013. Princeton County, Indiana. A truck traveling over 60 mph rear-ends an SUV at a traffic light. First responders arrive to find the SUV engulfed in flames. Deputy Sheriff Jeff Hill recalls, “I really right then believed that it was gonna be a fatality.” The victim was 23-year-old children’s pastor and performer Cody Byrns. Fire Chief Mike Pflug remembers, “You could see a hand hanging out of the vehicle, and-and, to be honest, we had automatically assumed it's probably gonna be a body recovery”

But as firefighters struggled to douse the flames Fire Chief Pflug noticed something. “I seen his hand move. And I immediately turned and ran back to the truck and told the crews that, ‘Hey, he's still alive. “It turned into a rescue instead of a recovery so we've gotta pick this up’.”

Now they were battling the flames and the clock.  It took an hour to pull Cody from the wreckage and load him on a waiting chopper. Fire Chief Pflug said, “I cried. I-I don't think there was a dry eye of any of the firefighters on that scene. This was probably the bravest rescue I've ever witnessed in my career.” Sheriff Hill went to Cody’s home to inform his parents about the accident. Cody’s mother, Jan Byrns, recalls, “He said, ‘Cody's been in a bad accident, and he's been Life Flighted.’ And so my heart just sunk at that moment.”

Jan and her husband rushed to the hospital where Cody’s two brothers and grandmother met them. They learned Cody had severe burns and needed to be transferred to the Richard M. Fairbanks burn center in Indianapolis, about 2 and a half hours away. Jan says, “They wouldn't let us see Cody right away, they put us in a little side room. So immediately you’re thinking the worse.” Once Cody was stabilized, the family was taken to see him. Jan recalls, “It was devastating to see him the first time.  We prayed over him and then they put him on the Life Flight, and they flew him to Indianapolis at that point.”

The burn center director, Dr. Rajiv Sood, assessed Cody’s condition.  Cody had 4th degree burns that, in some places, had gone to the bone.  Dr. Sood recalls, “He had very significant burns, over 40% of his total body surface area. There was an inhalation injury component. When patients who have burns sustain a lung injury, they have three times the chance of not making it.”

Jan and her family arrived at the hospital to find Cody deeply sedated. Jan said, “We were just kind of numb, and it was just hard to take in. I just felt like I was having a nightmare. I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t even know what to say.” But their church and Facebook friends around the world were praying for Cody’s strength and healing.  Soon, the doctors were confident Cody would survive but the road ahead would be painful and uncertain. In the coming weeks Cody would endure numerous surgeries to remove dead tissue and graft on new. Dr. Sood explains, “The surgeries involved in burn care are, they are pretty awful. It really conceptually involves removing layers of skin first, and then fat as needed, and muscle or whatever is burnt really. There were repeated episodes of infection.”

There was also the chance Cody wouldn’t regain full use of his limbs. While grateful her son would live, Jan now feared for his future in ministry. She calls, “He always at an early age had a drive and a vision to serve God. And that continued to grow as he got older.”  But that wasn’t all he could lose. She said, “They told me they were gonna have to probably amputate three of his fingers. And I'm like, ‘You can't. He juggles. You can't do that’. Feeling like I was in a dream, I also felt a peace, knowing – and I know that was from others praying.”

Through those prayers, and the skill of his doctors, Cody lost none of his fingers, and began improving every day.  After almost 4 weeks, he was breathing on his own with no permanent damage to his lungs.   But as he came out of sedation, Cody struggled to face his new reality. He said, “When they would unwrap my hands I was devastated because I could actually see my bones, parts where the flesh had been burnt off. It took a long time before I really fully understood the extent of my injuries. My heart was broke, because I knew that I would probably never be able to do the things that I once loved to do.”

Over the next several months, Cody endured more surgeries and physical therapy. He also wrestled with depression, but says his faith saw him through. Cody believes, “God didn't do this to me, but He allowed it to happen, because He could trust me. He knew that with Him being my strength, He could trust and know that Cody Byrns is going to be able to take this tragic event, turn it around, and make it into something beautiful.  But it's only with His strength, and with Him guiding and helping me.”

Cody is back brightening the lives of others as a performer and motivational speaker. Dr. Sood says, “He had a vision of, ‘Hey, I'm gonna get back to ministry. And I'm gonna get back to, you know, juggling and spreading the Word’, and with just a different sort of message which was actually more powerfully delivered, in his case, after injury.” Cody’s mom, Jan says, “He was like off the charts on his juggling before, to see him do it now is even so much more meaningful, because I know what he went through. And to see him raise his hands now and give God glory is just, is just overwhelming. I'm just so thankful.” And Cody concludes, “Jesus lets us know that, you know. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, He's overcome the world.  And so, I cling to Him. He is my rock, He is my strength, He is my hope. And uh He's the reason I exist, and I continue to move forward.”

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