MARS HILL, Maine — On Wednesday afternoon, something caught Courtney Wetzel’s eye as she talked on the phone. She looked up to see her 25-year-old husband, Zane Wetzel, zip across the street into a nearby Boston coffee shop and return with a fresh cup of coffee in his hand. She couldn’t help but smile.
It might have been an ordinary action for anyone else, but not for Zane, who just two months ago was struggling for life after he was jolted by a large charge of electricity in an industrial accident in Presque Isle.
A lot has changed for the Maine Public Service apprentice lineman since the Oct. 12 accident. Wetzel has been in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities ever since he was hit with 69,000 volts in an accident at the MPS substation on Parkhurst Siding Road. He suffered a flash burn to his chest, back, arm and neck. Wetzel had third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body.
Wetzel’s recovery, while still incomplete, has been surprisingly quick, according to doctors. And for the first time since the accident, he was returning home late Thursday for about five days — just in time to spend Christmas with his family.
“We really could not have asked for a better Christmas gift,” Courtney Wetzel, who lives with her husband in Mars Hill, said on Wednesday. “Zane isn’t home for good, but we never thought that we would be this lucky. We never thought we’d have him home for Christmas.”
Wetzel, an Ohio native, had only been working for MPS for 10 months before the accident. He was rushed to The Aroostook Medical Center after the accident and then flown to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He remained in a drug-induced coma for two weeks in the intensive care unit and endured a number of skin graft surgeries.
When readers last caught up with Wetzel at Thanksgiving, he was just about to be transferred from Brigham and Women’s to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge. The doctors thought he would be there for two to three months. He checked out after just two weeks and moved into an apartment in Boston with his wife. He still goes to the hospital several times a week for intense outpatient occupational and physical therapy.
“Zane is doing so much better,” Courtney Wetzel said on Wednesday. “It is so nice for him to be back in a normal routine, living in an apartment and going out into the community. He still doesn’t have much use of his left hand and will have another surgery next week, but he is doing so much better. We are so thankful.”
A couple of weeks ago, Wetzel said, her husband couldn’t even touch his face. Now he is washing his hair and feeding himself. As his energy level has grown, the couple has gone out shopping, to eat at restaurants, and to see movies and plays.
Wetzel said Zane is doing better but is still not up for a lot of media attention, which is why she is still speaking on behalf of both of them.
He has suffered moderate to severe damage to his inner ears and has lost some hearing as a result. He likely will need hearing aids to assist him.
Still, Wetzel said, Zane is upbeat and looking forward to Christmas in Mars Hill.
“Neither one of us has been home since the accident,” she said. “We can’t wait to just be surrounded by family and friends. We are going to try to keep it quiet, but I know that so many people want to see Zane, so I am sure we will stay busy.”
Courtney Wetzel said that she kept news of her husband’s Christmas homecoming to herself for a few days in order to surprise her younger identical twin sisters, Brianna and Chelsea Hartin. She didn’t post anything on her blog about Zane being released from Spaulding. When her sisters got off the plane in Boston after their first semester of college at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, they expected to see their sister and parents. They didn’t expect to see Zane, who they call “Zizzle.”
“As you can imagine, there was quite a lot of freaking out,” said Wetzel. “They were so excited. They thought at first that he had just gotten a pass to leave the rehab facility, but when we told them it was permanent, they were jumping and screaming. They were so happy.”
If Zane continues to make good progress and doctors are able to line up therapy for him in Presque Isle, he could be home for good by the end of January, according to Courtney Wetzel.
The couple was flying home to Maine on Thursday afternoon and scheduled to return to Massachusetts on Monday.
With her husband at her side growing healthier every day, Wetzel said that every day has taken on a whole new meaning.
“Right now, there is a glow about everything,” she said. “We are very religious and our faith is so important to us, but sometimes it is hard not to get caught up in the material things.”
Wetzel said that she and those close to her have realized that the little things, like sinking into a soft sofa of your own next to someone you love, is far more important than the iPod in a pretty package under the Christmas tree.
“The material things don’t matter,” she said on Wednesday. “Faith and family is so important. Those are the things that mean so much.”
To follow Zane’s progress, log on to Courtney Wetzel’s blog at: www.projectprettyblog.com.