LaGrange burn victim might leave hospital Tuesday, wife says

Barbara Robinson listens as Al Highers prepares to end his day shift at Four Corners Variety and Redemption Center in LaGrange on Thursday, Nov. 17. Robinson came in as a volunteer to work a shift at the store so that Joanne Decesere could go visit her husband at a Portland hospital after he suffered severe burns in an accident earlier in the day.
Barbara Robinson listens as Al Highers prepares to end his day shift at Four Corners Variety and Redemption Center in LaGrange on Thursday, Nov. 17. Robinson came in as a volunteer to work a shift at the store so that Joanne Decesere could go visit her husband at a Portland hospital after he suffered severe burns in an accident earlier in the day. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 21, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 21, 2011, at 6:36 p.m.

LAGRANGE, Maine — As burn victim John Decesere prepares to leave a Portland hospital on Tuesday or Wednesday, offers of help to him and his convenience store continue to pour in, Decesere’s wife, Joanne, said Monday.

A Bangor landscaping firm has promised to come to the Decesere’s Four Corners Variety Store to remove the stump Decesere was trying to destroy when his six-gallon can of diesel fuel exploded, and close to $700 had been dropped in the collection jar at the store since Thursday’s accident.

“He is doing pretty good. He is not sleeping well because he can only sleep in one position, on his back,” Joanne Decesere said Monday. “He did say he is not going to touch the stump again. John has been fighting with this [stump] for two years. I asked him, ‘Are you going to touch the tree stump again?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Great.’”

Several passers-by used coffee and jugs of water from within the store to douse the flames that burned the 60-year-old’s face, head, torso and arms as he worked in his store’s side yard. One witness said Decesere told him the red plastic gasoline jug carried No. 2, or off-road, diesel fuel.

Decesere’s condition on Monday was stable, a spokeswoman at Maine Medical Center said.

Doctors told Decesere they hoped to release him Tuesday or Wednesday. They say he suffered second-degree burns to his hands and first-degree burns to his torso, face and head, said Donna Highers, Joanne’s sister.

“Now, just talking with him, he sounds so much better. He is eating better. He just wants to come home,” said Joanne, who has been able to visit him only once because she has to mind their store. “He sounds more alert and he is eating. That makes me happy. Before he was eating not very well because it hurt.”

Highers and Joanne Decesere had a terrible moment when they visited John at the hospital on Friday. They went to what they were told was his room and couldn’t find him. Decesere approached a patient and, Highers said, announced that she was looking for her husband.

“He looked at her and said, ‘Joanne, this is me,’” Highers recalled.

Between his wounds, the swelling from them and his doctors’ having shaved his head, Decesere was unrecognizable, Highers said. Since then, he looks much better, and efforts to raise money for the Deceseres, who lack medical insurance, have increased.

They have no idea how high his medical expenses will rise, they said. Described by residents as hardworking people who have improved the store extensively since assuming ownership four years ago, the Deceseres couldn’t afford medical insurance, Joanne Decesere has said.

Highers has established a bank account at Camden National Bank, care of P.O. Box 188, Milo 04463, for donations in care of John Decesere, and a local woman is planning a fundraiser supper for sometime after Thanksgiving, Highers said.

Friends and neighbors have offered to help in any way they can. The Deceseres are grateful for the help, and Highers said she is hoping to organize those offers into something long-term, as no one knows how long his recuperation will take.

“They are willing to work for free. It’s a multitude of people,” Joanne Decesere said. “It is not one or two.”

“I know I am going to do what I can for her because she can’t work at the store much,” Highers said. “She is going to have to take care of John.”

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