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At the HART

"I need courage as soon as I walk out the door"

Four years ago, Philipp Bosshard barely survived an accident at work leaving 88 percent of his skin burned. Ever since that day, his life has changed a lot. But one thing remained: the courage to carry on each day.

A spark changed everything: Philipp Bosshard suffered burns to 88 percent of his skin in a work accident. The trained carpenter is now living independently again in his home town of Buelach in the Swiss canton of Zurich – and has set himself ambitious goals. His dream is to take part in the Paralympics. In this interview, the 31-year-old talks about everyday challenges and his strategy of using setbacks for motivation.
Philipp Bosshard

Four years ago, you barely survived an accident at work – leaving most of your skin scarred. What exactly happened?

I worked in civil engineering and was welding on an attachment in a pipe at a depth of nine metres. A spark ignited oxygen – and suddenly my foot caught fire. At first, I thought it was just a spark. But then the inferno started. By the time I got out at the top, all my clothing was gone.

When did you realise how serious the situation was?

Before I was hauled out of the pipe, I looked down at myself and saw my t-shirt go up in flames. I knew then that something serious had happened. But I was in total shock, of course. Outside, I saw that my right arm had burst open - like a sausage on a grill. It was clear to me then that either my life would end, or it would never be the same again. At some point, the skin from my forehead slipped over my eyes. Then the pain began.

And that was followed by a long period in hospital.

Exactly. I was put into a medically induced coma for eight weeks. All of the damaged skin had to be removed. When I regained consciousness, a team of doctors was standing in front of me. At that time, I barely felt any pain. I stared wide-eyed at the doctors, and they stared back at me. My biggest worry back then was that I'd never be able to play sports again. I didn't grasp the dimension of my injury at all. The doctors knew exactly how serious it was, of course – but they didn't want to discourage me. Back then, I had hobbies that were physically very demanding. I loved extreme activities and they knew I wouldn't be able to do those anymore. But thanks to the wonderful support of the doctors, nursing staff and physiotherapists, especially my sports physiotherapist Francesca Brenni, I've been able to snowboard alone again for a year now. That was my greatest goal. I had a couple of really amazing days this winter.


How did it feel to stand on the mountain again?

I went snowboarding again for the first time with my sports physiotherapist in January 2017. It was very emotional and gave me lots of hope and courage that I could achieve bigger goals. The doctors had said that I'd need constant nursing care today. But I refused to believe that. You have to set yourself goals on such a difficult path. Today, the doctors are amazed at what I'm able to achieve in my new life. I can now cycle 72 kilometres on a racing bike again.

You spent a year at the university hospital in Zurich. How was that time for you?

I found that period extremely difficult. I was wrapped in bandages like a mummy. The pain was unbearable. Some days, it was so bad that I didn't want to live anymore. The suicidal thoughts were my absolute low. Luckily, I have wonderful people around me: my family and friends gave me the greatest strength. And I had an excellent care team in the intensive care unit who came to be like family for me.

The period after the accident certainly posed big challenges.

I had a very steep, rocky road ahead of me – which I faced with lots of optimism and the highest of spirits from the very beginning. I'm now living alone again. I have to bend down more to grasp things, as I can't extend my arm fully. And I wouldn't be able to live on the eighth floor because climbing steps is hard for me. But the biggest change and limitation is the unwanted attention.

Do you perceive society differently since your accident?

When strangers encounter me in a restaurant, for example, they often don't know how to interact with me – if I don't initiate conversation, I'm excluded. I then have to steel myself and take the plunge to approach them, which leads to a lot of respect as well as lovely feedback. People just don't have the courage to take the first step. I can understand that, but it's also hard on me.

So your positive, outgoing manner was also essential for your recovery.

I've always been sociable. That helps me a lot now too. Even so, it's extremely hard to struggle on with such a strange appearance. I need courage as soon as I walk out the door. Then I leave my comfort zone, the external scars become internalised. But it makes you grow. If I isolated myself, I'd lose this great enthusiasm for life.

After snowboarding, do you have any new goals?

My greatest ever goal would be to reach the Paralympics. Ideally in the paratriathlon or paracycling. But it's not easy to get admitted for the games. My lung capacity is reduced because the scarred skin is so tight around my chest. And I don't have any heat regulation anymore, I can only sweat on my head. But these internal limitations, which are severe for me, aren't recognised. I'm now looking to see what type of sport I can obtain a classification for. I'd just like to show that everything is possible – and no obstacle is too big. Having that goal in mind also makes it easier to get through the countless exercise and treatment routines I have to do every day to keep my skin flexible and to keep my mobility.

How much has modern medicine helped in your recovery?

I wouldn't be here without it. I had less than a 10 percent chance of survival. The doctors put cadaver skin over me to keep me alive. But in 90 percent of cases, that skin is rejected by the body – as happened in my case too. During that time, the doctors were able to grow new skin for my body using my own skin cells.

What advice would you give people going through a similar experience to yours?

I'd encourage them not to give up. That's the biggest battle. We often notice positive experiences far too little, yet we remember the negative very clearly. I had to learn that the immense pain and setbacks were part of it and that they can help you to grow. I developed this strategy for myself: every blow is a step backwards to take a running jump forwards.

As the Ambassador for the 8th IVF HARTMANN Wound Symposium, Philipp Bosshard will speak about his experiences in Zurich on 28 June 2018. His appearance is intended to set an example against exclusion and for greater recognition. The slogan for the symposium is "The Art of Wound Care". More than 20 renowned speakers will discuss real-world case studies, wounds in mental disorders and many other exciting topics. More information on the event can be found here: https://www.ivf.hartmann.info/services/veranstaltungen/wundsymposium/

2018 marks HARTMANN’s 200-year anniversary.

To commemorate this milestone, we have put together this series of articles. In it we show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.