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Teen explosion victim improves

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Moon teenager who survived the explosion of his home last week will be able to lead "a normal and productive life," the director of Mercy Hospital's burn unit said Wednesday.

Marc Rateau, 18, suffered primarily second-degree burns and some small areas of third-degree burns to about 40 percent of his body, said Dr. Larry Jones, director of the Birmingham Trauma and Burn Center. Rateau was burned on his face, neck, chest, arms and legs March 16 when his Bertley Ridge Drive home blew up shortly after he and his sister, Chelsea, 14, returned home from school.

In addition to burns, Marc suffered smoke inhalation and broken bones in his right foot. A breathing tube was removed yesterday, and his condition was upgraded from critical to serious. He's able to talk and eat, and his mother, Margaret Rateau, said he's asking for apple juice.

"He basically is my strength. I see him and I know that if he can get through the next day, then I can get through the next day," she said.

Jones said Marc Rateau likely won't need skin grafts and should not have much scarring. The doctor said Marc should be in the hospital a few more weeks.

"I don't know how he actually made it from the building. I've seen pictures of the home, and it's devastated," Jones said. "He is typical of the large burns that we care for here at Mercy Hospital. You have these horrific stories of something that's happened to a patient, and through the grace of God they survived it."

Rateau's parents spoke at a news conference to thank emergency workers, neighbors, students and others who have helped since the destruction of their home.

Investigators believe the house filled with gas after a contractor boring under Bertley Ridge Drive for Comcast ruptured a 2-inch Columbia Gas line in front of the Rateau home. The gas traveled into the house and built up until it was ignited by an unknown source.

Marc's father, Robert Rateau, a supervisor for Moon Township Municipal Authority, said his focus is on his children rather than who is responsible for what happened.

"I have my kids. At that time, I didn't know I was going to have my children," he said. "I have my children, and my son's going to survive. We've got each other. That's all I can hope for. That's all that matters."

Robert Rateau said Chelsea walked out a first-floor door with the family dog behind her. After the explosion blew out the walls, Marc jumped from the second floor into burning rubble.

"It was surreal," Robert Rateau said. "The place was gone. We have no explanation at this point" for how the children got out alive.

Robert Rateau said the first 24 hours after the explosion were the worst of his life.

Mercy doctors "assured us things will get better. They were right. Things have gotten better every day," he said. "A week has made a huge difference. We're really very optimistic. Our spirits are soaring because we know he's going to survive."

After the burns heal, Marc Rateau will need to go through physical therapy and rehabilitation to regain use of his hands and legs, Jones said.

"He's very aware of what's going on, and he communicates very freely with the staff. He really is a great patient. He's very cooperative. He's with the program," he said.

Jones said Chelsea Rateau had minor burns to her chest. She returned to school this week.

"We've tried to make things as normal for her as possible," said Margaret Rateau, a nursing teacher. "Her friends have really stepped up to the plate and helped her get through this week. It helped us concentrate on Marc."

Robert Rateau said his family will decide together if they will build a new home where their house once stood.

"Moon Township is our home. We're going to go back to Moon Township," he said. "My children grew up there. My children go to school there. It's been our community for a dozen years. That's our life."

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