SAN ANTONIO – Gatlin Magee, now nearly 28-years-old, was 17 when he lost his finger in a fireworks accident.
The wind blew over the mortar tube Magee was using, and the firework inside was heading toward his little brother. He used his hand to divert the firework away from his brother, and it blew up in his hand.
Magee says he was being safe but acknowledges accidents happen when you’re playing with fireworks.
“It doesn’t really matter how safe you’re being,” Magee said. “Something can and will go wrong. Fireworks -- they’re bombs. It’s not a toy. It’s a bomb. And it will take pieces off of you and have no remorse for it because it’s just something that, that’s what it’s made to do.”
Magee says he underwent seven surgeries and a soft tissue transplant, but shrapnel is still inside his hand. Additionally, he had to do a lot of physical therapy to relearn how to do everyday things after his injury.
Magee said he feels sorry for the victims in a viral video of two young men injured in a weekend street drag racing fireworks disaster.
“There’s a lot of questions that are going through their mind, probably just as to how they’re going to do day-to-day tasks like brush their teeth, button their pants, button their shirts,” he said.
The University Health Trauma Center saw a jump in pediatric firework-related injuries in 2020, with about 27 cases, up from 12 in 2019. There were 13 cases in 2018 and 20 in 2017.
Methodist Healthcare System says 25 people visited its emergency room last year with firework-related injuries.
Fireworks are illegal within city limits, but they were going off all night on New Year’s Eve, according to the San Antonio Police Department. SAPD says one written citation was given out between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and 21 verbal warnings were given.
Magee hopes the recent unfortunate event helps the victims and witnesses have respect for fireworks safety.
“I know the pain that I went through and just the nerve damage that happened. It’s going to be a tough road ahead, but it’s definitely manageable,” Magee said. “If you’re going to do it, at least be safe with it and don’t treat it like a toy. You can take somebody’s life, and then that’s not something you can give back.”
Magee credits the Department of Assistive & Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and Texas Burn Survivors Society for helping him through the healing process.