The question of whether a person should celebrate their father all year round or on one particular day has been answered for a local family.

On March 18, 2023, the Mockerman family’s lives took a drastic turn when Rob Mockerman was involved in an accident that left him with second and third degree burns to more than 85 percent of his body.

At 5:30 that evening, while his wife Trish and six-year-old son Aden were inside their house near Buck Creek cooking dinner, Mockerman went to his shop to give a tune up to a recently purchased snowmobile.

“We’d just got a new-to-us skidoo from a guy in Edmonton,” says Mockerman. Both he and Aden were excited to go try it out.

Unbeknownst to Mockerman, there was a fuel leak in the machine. When he first started the engine, it caught on fire. At first Mockerman tried to get the machine out of his shop, which held close to a million dollars worth of tools and equipment. 

When it became clear that wouldn’t work, Mockerman tried to put the fire out as best as he could. Finally, he decided to make a run for his fire extinguisher.

“I got half way across the shop when the skidoo blew up,” says Mockerman.

From that point on, Mockerman’s memory of the incident is limited. He says he remembers looking for a way out, and that he could only see a tiny little spot. 

Trish says she saw the smoke through the bedroom window and told Aden that she had to go see what his dad was doing. 

“Once it came across the floor and up the door frame it was too much for me,” says Trish.

“I made sure she dialled 911,” says Aden.

Once Mockerman made it outside, Trish tackled him to the ground, hoping the snow would help put out the flames. He got up again at that point and ran past the deck, where Aden was watching the commotion, before falling into the snow again.

Trish made all the necessary phone calls and soon the ambulance arrived. She’d also reached out to Mockerman’s parents, asking to speak to Ernie so she didn’t have to upset Alice, as well as his estranged brother Randy. Once the paramedics arrived, it became clear that STARS was needed.

Both Ernie and Alice had arrived at Mockerman’s place before he was airlifted to the hospital. 

“I don’t remember much, but I just remember that as STARS was flying away, I was blowing kisses at the helicopter and praying with tears just running down my cheeks,” says Alice.

Ernie says the person that he saw lying on the gurney did not in any way resemble his son. Mockerman asked the paramedics to keep his mom away because he didn’t want her to see him like that.

“It was a nightmare,” says Alice. “It was the worst nightmare that I’ve ever had.”

Eleven minutes after the helicopter arrived, Mockerman was in Edmonton at the burn unit in the University of Alberta hospital.

Upon arrival in Edmonton, Mockerman flatlined for the first time. Before he was stable, Mockerman died two more times in the hospital. For three months, he was in a coma.

He says he has little recollection of the time when he was in the coma other than he had vivid night terrors for the duration of it. A recent trip through Breton gave him an anxiety attack when he recognized a building that had been in one of those nightmares.

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses went to work debriding the dead tissue on his body. 

“I remember waking up once in the middle of it,” he says. “That’s not a fun experience. I realized at that point in time that I was in trouble.”

During his time in the hospital, Mockerman’s family came to see him every weekend without fail. Even Aden made the trip with them, though he didn’t always go inside to see his dad after his first experience seeing Mockerman didn’t go well.

“It was hot in there. I was cooking,” says Aden. Trish recognized that he was about to faint and quickly brought him out to the waiting room.

“That was the hardest part for me,” says Mockerman. “The first time I was seeing my son and he was so scared he couldn’t even come up to me.”

“How do you prepare him for that?” says Alice. “That was his dad, his best friend there. How do I tell him what he’ll see?”

Part of the issue was that Mockerman didn’t look like himself. His body had swollen to nearly four times its natural size. To help prevent his limbs from bursting, doctors made incisions along both arms and legs to help relieve the swelling. Because of the swelling, he also couldn’t breathe so the doctors performed a tracheotomy. 

Mockerman says the only areas of his body that they didn’t remove skin grafts from were the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. Everything else was fair game.

On Monday they would take a skin graft from his stomach. Then on Thursday, they would take one from his back. Monday would come around again, and they would remove what skin they could from his stomach. 

After 48 surgeries, months of rehabilitation that involved learning how to speak, write, and walk again, Mockerman remembers the staff at the hospital fondly.

“Dr. Sean Dodd is like my best friend now,” says Mockerman of the head surgeon. “Dr. Alexis Amour, one of my plastic surgeons, she’s… I couldn’t say enough words about her. She’s phenomenal.”

He says all of the staff on the burn ward were “utterly amazing people.” One of his favourite memories was being woken up at 12:01 a.m. on his birthday as the entire staff on the floor came in to sing him Happy Birthday.

Though Mockerman tried to remain as positive as possible, there were days when his mood turned down. When that happened, he said the staff were always there for him emotionally and truly helped him to get through the experience.

“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t see for a while,” he says. “I had to learn all of my life skills all over again.”

When it became apparent that the flesh on his left calf wasn’t going to heal, doctors began to discuss amputating his left leg. 

He kept getting infections and they weren’t going away. The doctor told him they had tried every single medication and trial drug available in Canada, but nothing seemed to be working. Mockerman was told he likely only had a few days left to live.

However, a doctor in the United States happened to read about Mockerman and contacted his doctor. They had a new drug that hadn’t even started being tested on animals. The American doctor told Mockerman’s doctor that if he could get Canadian approval, he would ship him the drug. That drug saved his life.

“To this day, they tell me a bee sting could take me out,” says Mockerman. “I don’t have an immune system.”

Dodd fought to have Mockerman keep his leg and was successful. Rather than remove the leg, they removed all of the flesh from his calf, leaving only the bone covered by a couple layers of skin.

“They say it’s amazing that I can even walk,” he says.

Once Mockerman got it into his mind that he was going to walk he said he didn’t let anything deter him from his goal. He didn’t say anything to his family about his efforts. Instead, he surprised them by walking out to see them when they came to visit for his birthday on June 17.

Only a month ago Mockerman had to go to the U of A to have his pinkie fingers removed on both hands. He says he learned that when a body is burned, one of the first things that happens is the fingers curl up. Once that happens, it can be difficult to get them to straighten out to a point that they can be useful.

The remainder of his fingers had to be worked on. Skin grafts were needed and hardware had to be put in place. All three fingers and his thumb work on his left hand, but on his right hand, his pointer finger and middle finger are still in casts.

While Mockerman may have suffered the injuries, his close call affected everyone in his family. Ernie and Alice normally head to Arizona for the winter months, but for the winter of 2023/24, they stayed in Drayton. Ernie has been driving Mockerman in for his weekly appointments.

“There’s no words to express how much it affected all of us,” says Alice. “We just praise the Lord every day.”

“I couldn’t have done it without Mom and Dad and Trish,” Mockerman says.

But one of the best things to come out of the experience was Mockerman’s relationship with his brother. He said for the majority of his life, he and his brother didn’t get along. They would only tolerate each other at family events when they didn’t have a choice. Now they are closer than they ever were before.

“Randy and I are best friends now. It really brought us together,” he says. “It brought all of us together.”

Prior to the accident, Mockerman was looking forward to retiring in 2025 with plans to work out of his shop doing custom Harley paint jobs. Unfortunately, Mockerman had taken the insurance off of his vehicles for the winter as he wouldn’t be driving them. A misunderstanding of what exactly was covered by insurance left him with nothing but ash after his shop burned down.

“I’ve never been able to slow down,” he says. “I’ve always been the type of guy to grab an extra gear and keep on going. Slowing down has been one of the hardest things.”

He says one of the hardest things when he returned home was that he couldn’t return to work. Mockerman says he absolutely loved his job, but after his accident, the company had to sell his truck and eliminate his position.

Mockerman says he was shocked to see how many neighbours came out to support his family after his accident. He says he couldn’t express enough gratitude to cover how he felt about their help.

One family, the Hayduks, were at his house shortly after the accident and took Aden to their house while the paramedics were there to distract him from the experience.

“You tend to forget how many friends you actually have until something like this unfortunately comes along,” says Mockerman.

He says though he works to stay positive, there are times when he finds his mind drifting to what is missing.

“I just look out the window sometimes and look around to see what I lost,” he says. “But then I look around to see what I have. I feel pretty damn blessed.”

Now that he’s at home, there are still a lot of adjustments that he has to get used to. He says he will never ride a Harley again, and will have to resort to using trikes instead. He’s also lost a lot of his drive for his retirement dream and isn’t sure if it will ever come back.

To help pass the time and as part of his therapeutic process, Mockerman has been writing a book about his experience. He says the nurses on the ward were always encouraging him to write. Now, he has the rough draft of a novel written out, and is always thinking of just one more thing to add to it.

One habit Mockerman has been working on now that he’s home is gratitude. He says he and Aden do their best to start their day finding five things to be grateful for in the upcoming day. 

Prior to his accident, Mockerman says he wasn’t a religious person. But a couple of experiences that he had when he had flatlined has changed his views.

“I saw the light that everyone talks about. I’m guessing it was God standing at the end of it,” he says.

While he can’t be certain, Mockerman says it felt like God was speaking to him. He was told that he had a choice: he could either go to sleep and escape the pain, or if Mockerman could give a good reason, he could live. Mockerman says he chose to live, that he wanted to be there for his son, and then he woke up.

The next time he flatlined all he saw at the end of his tunnel was a picture of Aden. Mockerman says he’d never seen the picture before. But when he came too the next day, his mother had brought that exact same picture, frame and all, to put in his room.

Even though the weather left a lot to be desired, the Mockermans still went out camping on May Long weekend with several friends. Mockerman says he’s hoping to keep as many of his regular activities in his life as he can.

Currently, Mockerman is not able to work. While Trish does still have her job, and is able to work from home sometimes, the couple has had to go through a large chunk of their savings to get by.

Friends and family hosted a fundraiser for them in Breton last summer, and Ernie says he was pleased with the turnout. “There were about 200 people there,” he says.

For now, Mockerman says they are taking it one day at a time.

“They call me miracle man in there,” he says. “I’m not bragging, that’s just what they said. They said they’ve never seen anyone so positive going through what I did.”

By Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 13, 2024 at 21:22

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Drayton Valley, Alberta

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