A Blackfoot area boy who was severely burned by 350-degree cooking oil at Fort Hall last week is facing an uphill battle to recover after the accident left him with third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body.
Brandon Zepeda, age 12, is currently in a medically induced coma and on life-support at the University of Utah Health Care Intermountain Burn Center in Salt Lake City, where he was transported via emergency helicopter following the July 3 incident.
The Zepeda family, who reside in the small town of Groveland northwest of Blackfoot, said Brandon will survive his severe burns but his recovery could take several months.
Frank Zepeda said his son Brandon suffered the burns during an accident at the Fort Hall racetrack during the annual Treaty Day celebration.
“On Sunday, he had his first surgery where doctors removed some of the dead tissue from his torso,” Frank said. “His body was what they call burn-sick and was not healing itself, so they removed the damaged tissue and added some cadaver skin on top to expedite the healing process.”
The incident happened when Brandon was rough-housing with his brother outside the mobile food trailer that Frank and his wife use to operate a small catering business.
Brandon and his brother were chasing each other and snapping a towel at one another when Brandon attempted to jump over a propane tank that was connected to a deep fryer outside of the trailer.
Brandon tripped over the hose connecting the two, which caused the fryer to topple over on top of him.
“I was inside the trailer talking on the phone to my wife when I heard the commotion,” Frank said. “I immediately threw my phone on the ground, yelled for someone to call 911 and ripped Brandon’s clothes off as soon as I could.”
Brandon experienced severe burns to his arms, legs and torso, and Frank said he experienced minor burns to his fingertips when removing Brandon’s clothes, which were saturated in 350-degree cooking oil. Frank then picked Brandon up, put him in a car and covered him with a tablecloth until an ambulance arrived.
Brandon was transported by a Fort Hall ambulance to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello following the incident, which occurred around 1:20 p.m. on July 3.
“We got him rushed to Portneuf and they had a medical team ready to apply some creams and sedation medication,” Frank said. “Brandon was in shock and didn’t know it. Portneuf had made arrangements with the burn center at the University of Utah so once he was stabilized they life-flighted him there.”
Frank said Brandon is scheduled to undergo several more surgeries in the coming months, adding that doctors have said the boy’s hospital stay could last between two and eight months.
“Doctors say there is a 100 percent chance that he encounters an infection. They are just not sure where,” Frank said. “They have replaced some of the dead tissue with cadaver tissue and taken a sample of Brandon’s skin in order to grow more replacement tissue, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.”
Despite his son’s horrific injuries, Frank said his family has remained in fair spirits, relying on the support of friends, relatives and his Mormon church ward in Groveland.
The Zepeda family is currently staying at Salt Lake City’s Ronald McDonald House, which is located less than 2 miles from the University of Utah burn center.
Both Frank and his wife Julie have been forced to take unpaid time away from work in order to be with Brandon. Frank works in construction and Julie works on the line at Basic American Foods in Blackfoot.
Though they do have health insurance, the cost of their deductibles coupled with the lost time at work has started to hamstring the family’s finances, Frank said.
To assist the family in this difficult time a friend has started a GoFundMe online fundraiser accessible by visiting the following case-sensitive link: bit.ly/2G3EaYk. As of Tuesday evening, $1,015 of the fundraiser’s $20,000 goal had been raised.
Those interested in contributing directly to the family can do so using Venmo, a mobile payment service owned by PayPal. After downloading the Venmo app on a smartphone or tablet, those interested can access Julie’s Venmo handle using @julie-zepeda-4.
Frank said Fort Hall officials have been tremendous in supporting his family throughout the ordeal, adding that employees at the Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel are working on putting together an additional fundraiser of some kind for Brandon.
Frank said additional information will be provided on that fundraiser at a later date.
“I just want to tell everyone who has already donated or taken time to come and visit us thank you so much for being there,” Frank said. “We really appreciate your thoughts and kind gestures during this difficult time in our lives.”