Teen learns hard lesson

BLUE EARTH – Tonya Manges knew nothing about the Fire Challenge until her son, Jaryd Johnson, 14, did it last week.

Manges got a call from the hospital in Blue Earth just before work ended on Aug. 5, saying Jaryd was in the emergency room.

“They said he had some burns from playing with aerosol,” Manges said.

(The “Fire Challenge” is when people douse themselves with flammable liquid and light themselves on fire, tape the event and post it on the Internet.)

Manges drove to the hospital in two frames of mind, one part thinking of how much trouble Jaryd was going to be in when she got her hands on him.

“The mother part of me was going, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no,'” she said.

Manges was not prepared for what she saw.

“When I walked into the ER … they were putting towels over him and he was shaking. I couldn’t see, but I knew it was not good,” said Manges, adding she was thinking, “What are we gonna do, how can I make his pain stop, how are we gonna make him better?”

Jaryd’s abdomen, chest, left shoulder and part of his neck were covered in second-degree burns, which means his nerves weren’t damaged, so he could feel the pain.

Turning to her son, sitting on their porch swing nine days later, she asked him how badly it hurt on a scale of 1 to 10.

“A billion,” Jaryd replied. “They kept giving me more painkillers, but it didn’t work.”

Jaryd spent about two hours in the hospital, then was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center Burn Unit. He was discharged about noon the next day.

“As long as I was comfortable changing his bandages every day, they’d let him come home,” Manges said.

She didn’t know how difficult it would be.

Part of the process is scrubbing Jaryd’s wounds to remove the dead skin.

“When we cleaned him, it took almost three of us to hold him. It’s that painful,” Manges said. “It’s just as painful for me.”

“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t,” Jaryd said with a laugh.

“It hurt me so much to clean him,” Manges said. “I can’t get those images out of my head. I probably never will.”

Because the hospital said Jaryd was playing with aerosol, Manges assumed he had been lighting hairspray with a lighter. She found out the truth after they got home.

“He had fibbed about what had happened,” she said.

Jaryd said he and his friends were “Axe bombing,” which is setting up a can of deodorant to spray continuously, something they’d done before. Jaryd said they lit some small fireworks and that’s how he got burned.

It made sense to Manges until her mother asked her if Jaryd had done the Fire Challenge. After finding out what it was, she confronted her son.

“I asked him and his eyes just went wide. I knew right there,” Manges said.

“I didn’t want to be in any more trouble,” Jaryd said of his reason for lying.

What really happened was a friend of his saw the Fire Challenge online and wanted to try it.

“He said if you do it, I’ll do it,” Jaryd said. “He still hasn’t done it.”

Jaryd thought his friend would spray him lightly, but the other boy kept spraying.

“I told him to stop,” Jaryd said. “After that, I didn’t want him to light me on fire, but he did.”

Most kids doing the Fire Challenge are in a shower so they can wash it off quickly, Manges said, but Jaryd took off running.

“You don’t know how you’re gonna react,” she said.

Jaryd’s wounds are healing, pink splotches up his front. He doesn’t have to wrap them anymore, but still has to apply lotions and ointments. He’s sore and moves carefully.

“They think it’ll heal for the most part, some will scar,” Manges said. “He will never be able to go out in the sun without extra protection.”

She knows it could have been so much worse.

“It’s a very hard lesson to learn,” Manges said. “We are very lucky compared to what it could have been. They say he’s healing remarkably quick. We’re taking very good care of him.”

Jaryd’s Internet privileges have been curtailed and Manges is dreaming up stuff for him to do around the house, as soon as he’s able, since he will be spending a lot of time at home for the foreseeable future.

Manges admits she went through Jaryd’s Facebook messages, but never thought to check out what he’d been watching online.

“To the parents: they need to talk with their kids, supervise and see what they’re watching on Facebook,” she said. “It’s like wildfire – once you start, it goes all over.”