Courage Under Fire

When Rob Villa was rushed to Community Regional Medical Center after his family’s house caught fire, he didn’t realize how badly he was burned.

“Oh, I didn’t think I was that bad at all. I thought maybe [I’d be released] the next day. Oh I didn’t think it was that bad,” Villa said.
His father Ray couldn’t believe Rob actually got out of the flames.

“It amazes me. I don’t know how he got out of that room. He said, when he talks about it, he said he saw the flames in front of him, he saw the flames to the left of him,” Ray said. “And I don’t know if I could have got the courage to run through the flames, like he did. But he did.”

Rob was burned over 85% of his body – most people burned so badly don’t survive. The wounds must be covered or the patient can die of complications like infections, Leon S. Peters Burn Center nurse manager Sandra Yovino explains.

“If you are a big burn there are only so many places you can take skin from in order to replace the skin that has been burned or injured.”

Rob needed his skin replaced so the burn center used a technology called cultured epithelial autograft (CEA). This process involved taking Rob’s own skin cells and growing them to produce more skin in a special lab in Boston.

“It’s very delicate, it can be very complicated, but it can also be very successful and save lives,” Yovino said.

The expertise and care of the Peters Burn Center team gave Rob a second chance at life. But it wasn’t easy for Rob. He fought hard to recover.

“From head to toe I was in bandages, from my fingertips to my bottom of my feet, every little thing, taking it off every other day,” he said. “You have to do it … it’s just painful.”

Besides constant dressing changes, Rob had skin grafts, his left foot amputated, 23 surgeries and much more. 

Rob left Community Regional eight months to the day he was burned. His family couldn’t have been happier.

Mom Dorothy says Rob is a fighter. She knows they have a long way to go, but she has her son back now.

“They’re unbelievable, they are one of the main reasons he is still alive today,” Dorothy said of the hospital staff.

After such a long hospital stay and working with so many burn center and rehabilitation specialists, Rob’s parting words were filled with emotion.

“Saying thank you, I mean it’s all I can do. It just doesn’t seem like enough.”

This story was reported by Mary Lisa Russell. She can be reached at