Derry boy overcomes burns from July, 2012 fireworks blast in Pelham
Benjamin Bertini, who will turn 4 later this month, shows off a paper crane that was made for him during his recovery after he was burned in a fireworks explosion in Pelham on July 3, 2012. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)
Joining the T-ball team is quite an accomplishment for a little boy who a year ago was just beginning to walk again after he was seriously burned in a fireworks explosion.
Pappathan and her husband, Robert Bertini, have been by their son's side on the long road to recovery that followed the fireworks accident at Pappathan's parents' home last July.
"He's a super healer," his dad said with a smile.
In their first interview since the explosion, Bertini and Pappathan recalled the day that changed their lives and the outpouring of support for their little boy, who turns 4 on Aug. 29.
Pappathan, 33, recalled walking from the porch onto the deck while holding her son's hand. She let go of him for a moment to snap a picture. Then there was an explosion.
Pappathan was knocked down the stairs and suffered a head injury and some burns to her foot and arm.
She became separated from Benjamin, who suffered more serious burns and a large puncture wound after fireworks hit him in the chest. The fiery explosion also burned off his hair.
"It obviously would have been much worse had he not done that," Pappathan said of the effort by her father, who also suffered burns.
"He was just bouncing between everyone that was there," Pappathan said.
An investigation by the state Fire Marshal's Office showed that those injured in the accident were on or near a back deck where about 344 unpackaged, reloadable mortar shells were stored.
Benjamin was airlifted to Boston Children's Hospital and then transferred to Shriner's Hospitals for Children in Boston, where he spent nearly a month undergoing skin grafts and other treatments.
Bertini, 31, realized the gravity of the injuries when he learned that his son would have to be intubated, with a tube placed in his trachea to keep his airway open while he remained unconscious.
As soon as she was released from the hospital, Pappathan joined her husband and they remained at their son's side while he was wrapped up "like a mummy" and intubated for a week. When he finally awoke and had the tube removed, his first words were, "Momma, are you OK?"
During his month-long stay at Shriner's, Benjamin received eight skin grafts that have healed but must still be monitored for years to come.
"We just don't know how many, but we've been told to be prepared. There are a lot of unknowns because he's still growing. We take it day by day and try to live a normal life," Pappathan said.
"It could have been worse. They could have been on his face," Pappathan said. "It makes you realize how quickly something can happen."
He loves his music class and playing on the swing set in his backyard.
In the weeks after the accident, Benjamin received countless cards, stuffed animals, handmade quilts and other presents from strangers wishing him well.
"It was such a comfort and we're so thankful. It was overwhelming, but in a good way," Pappathan said.
Bertini and Pappathan said they realize the explosion was an accident and have no animosity toward Pappathan's father, Chris, who hosted the party.
Pappathan said the family has moved forward.
So has her son.
"It's been hard," she said, "but we got through it and we're stronger because of it."
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