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Burn victim makes miraculous three-month recovery

Date: 3/3/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Not even the Nov. 13, 2008 house fire that destroyed 50-year-old Paul Dahlke Jr. s every possession and almost took his life could staunch his humor, strength or lust for life.

After two months in a drug-induced coma at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and numerous skin grafts to repair the second- and third-degree burns covering 81 percent of his body, Dahlke has returned to Agawam to start over.

Dahlke s sister Lynn O Brien and his former spouse Lori Cesan have spearheaded a campaign to get him back on his feet -- literally and figuratively -- by hosting a fundraiser on March 21 to help pay for his medical expenses and other bills.

It s certainly a surprise, Dahlke said of the fundraiser during an interview with Reminder Publications. You don t realize how many people love you or care about you until something [bad] happens to you. I m flabbergasted!

He explained that since returning home to live with his mother, he has been forced to relearn how to perform daily activities such as bathing, eating and clothing himself.

O Brien called her brother a fighter, unwilling to give up on life, despite the fact that doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of surviving his injuries.

She explained that the investigation into the cause of the explosion and fire is ongoing, adding that the focus for her family is to aid in Dahlke s recovery.

He s [progressed] leaps and bounds since he s been home, O Brien said. He can dress himself, shave he s walking without a limp.

Paul s mother, Carol Dahlke, explained that her son is becoming more independent with each passing day. She said that the positive outcome of this tragedy is that she and Paul have been able to spend quality time together.

O Brien explained that she hopes to raise $10,000 to $12,000 at the fundraiser in order to cover her brother s bills and living expenses. She noted that creditors, whom were once receptive to her brother s circumstances, have since become impatient.

I m not going to come out of this with any job skills, Paul said. I will need disability and will need government-funded housing.

Despite everything, he said he will never give up.

I can t imagine losing everything, including almost losing my life, and then having to start over at middle age, Cesan said. I want him to get back on track as soon as possible and I think the benefit will help him do that. He was always such an upbeat person " always willing to do something for anybody else and now it s his turn [to accept help].

The Paul Dahlke Jr. Fundraiser will take place on March 21 at 5 p.m. at the Agawam Polish Club, 139 Southwick St., Feeding Hills. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. The event will include a Chinese auction, food, music and raffles.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call O Brien at 789-1873 or 348-3004.