Garden City man fights for mobility, years after explosion took both his lower legs

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Over the last few weeks, KSN has reported on several prosthetic success stories, but a common issue for people who need prosthetics is the battle with insurance companies.

Several years ago, KSN reported on a Garden City man fighting for his life after a tragic explosion.

Now, KSN is following his fight to walk again and share his faith with the world at the same time.

Firemen told Charlie Drussel he was on fire for about a minute and 20 seconds after an explosion in his shop near Garden City on a cold December day in 2012.

Charlie had just doused some logs with fuel when the stove exploded, lighting the jug in his hand on fire. He remembers his conversation with 911 dispatch well.

“I said ‘I’m dying. Send the firemen. I don’t know how long I can last.’”

Charlie was left with third degree burns covering 30 percent of his lower legs, which were both amputated above the knee.

Sherry Drussel, Charlie’s wife, told KSN she never doubted her husband would live, but it’s the fight to walk since the accident that has been the hardest struggle.

“Every doctor told him he would never walk again because of his advanced age,” Sherry said of her husband who is now 70 years old.

For Charlie, it’s the daily things most people take for granted that he misses most; things like going up and down stairs and getting in and out of his truck.

“I keep dreaming of the day that I can put my foot on the running board of my truck and stand up,” he said.

That day is a little closer, thanks to Peeple’s Prosthetics in Wichita.

“We’re just trying to make him stronger, make him more stable, more confident and it definitely takes time,” said Dave Schrandt, who has been working with Charlie for the last few years.

Charlie has come a long way but now he faces a new kind of struggle; insurance coverage.

Right now, Charlie has basic prosthetic legs but they require a lot of energy to move around and they strain his back.

“I’m so used to doing everything myself and now I have to rely on help,” he said.

What he needs, he said, are known as “power knees,” programmed to react to certain movements.

The issue is that in order to qualify for insurance coverage, Charlie has to prove he’s capable of performing certain tasks without them, using his basic prosthetics.

“It’s something that you and I, we take for granted and we don’t think about doing it, but for him, it’s a struggle,” Schrandt said.

The Drussels won’t be able to order the “power knees” until they believe Charlie is ready to be tested for his ability.

Even then, Medicare has the option to approve or deny coverage, leaving Charlie with the nonrefundable expensive prosthetics either way.

“It’s horrendous. I mean we’ve been at this for over two years,” Sherry said. “They need to understand what life is without legs or without arms or whatever.”

Since the accident, Charlie has spoken to audiences across the state, sharing how his faith has guided him through this hardship.

“I tell people don’t ever take your body for granted. You never know. Get up at 8 o’clock some morning and by 8:30 you might be in a hospital somewhere with life threatening problems,” he said.

Now, Charlie takes nothing for granted.

“One thing the Lord did, he left me with a sense of humor and I’ve tried to help a good many people with their shortcomings,” he said. “You know, I have a shortcoming but it’s actually a blessing.”

KSN reached out to Medicare for comment on the process of prosthetic coverage but has not received a response.