WEST HILLS (CBS) — Four days before 19-year-old Derek Thomas was set to start playing football at Occidental College, his life changed forever.

Thomas was heading back from training in Mammoth last August when he was involved in a fiery wreck.

“I remember swerving left really sharp,” he recalls. “After that we took a tumble and went across the center divide.”

The crash killed Thomas’ coach and two San Diego teens. One of them was his girlfriend. A Cal Baptist cheerleading coach in another van also died.

When Thomas arrived at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, doctors said his prognosis wasn’t good.

Dr. Grossman stretched Thomas’ salvageable skin, but he underwent 33 skin graft surgeries after 85 percent of his skin – the body’s largest protective organ – had to be removed.

He spends at least an hour a day in a hyperbaric chamber and has undergone challenging physical and occupational therapy sessions.

Thomas will be released Tuesday, but he’ll still have weekly doctor visits, and in six months, he will undergo a neck procedure to increase mobility.

He hopes others focus on the transformation within and the lessons he’s taking away.

“I’m not really nervous, just anxious to get out and excited,” he told CBS 2. “I think I will go fishing with my dad.”


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