Bob Namola said the doctors told him it normally takes about a year for a person who loses both legs to learn to walk with prosthetics after being released from a hospital.
But because of his remarkable outlook, and a steadfast commitment to heal, they told him he can expect a speedier recovery.
"It was an accident," he said. "It could have happened to anybody."
After that late-night motorcycle crash in August 2010, Mr. Namola of Warren, Ohio, who also suffered severe burns, spent 16 months at UPMC Mercy Burn Center.
About a month after his release, Mr. Namola and his girlfriend, Debra Logston of Youngstown, Ohio, made the hour-and-a-half trip back to Pittsburgh -- this time to celebrate.
They joined about 150 burn victims, their families and staff at the hospital's 18th annual Burn Survivor Sunday.
It's been a long journey for the couple, who said they weren't officially an item until tragedy brought them closer.
Ms. Logston, 49, was riding on the back of Mr. Namola's motorcycle that August night when they struck a deer that had jumped in the road. The impact of the crash caused the fuel caps to rupture, igniting the motorcycle, he said. Because of the extent of his burns, Mr. Namola, 42, was flown by helicopter to the burn center at UPMC Mercy. Ms. Logston was transported to a Cleveland hospital in stable condition. She has recovered but still has trouble even standing up some days, Mr. Namola said.
For five months, Mr. Namola lived in a medically induced coma, he said. The burns left scars on his arms, and he is missing four fingers on his right hand.
"Before, I wouldn't have thought I could go through something like this," he said.
Ms. Logston, who flashed a bright smile and affectionately touched Mr. Namola when she spoke, remarked on her boyfriend's courage and positive attitude.
"I'm amazed how strong he is," she said.
A registered nurse who had cared for Mr. Namola and stopped over to say hello echoed those sentiments. Courtney Cuccia is one of the many caregivers who reunite with their former patients at the annual event. She, too, remarked on Mr. Namola's attitude and said it's always rewarding to witness a patient's progress.
"This is why we do this, right?" she said.
Now, Mr. Namola works out three times a week at a facility back home in Warren. The next step is getting his legs -- he doesn't want to forever depend on a wheelchair, he said.
"I'll get there," he said.
Across the room at the face-painting station, 5-year-old JaQuan Manus looks up smiling, a Batman logo sprawled across his forehead. It seems for a second he forgets he's draped in a hospital gown with a bandaged arm.
JaQuan was admitted to the burn center in early January after accidentally burning himself playing with a lighter and setting fire to nearby papers and his clothes, said his mother, Kadeya Noble of Erie.
After two skin grafts, he's making significant process, she said, completing hydrotherapy without sedatives and helping change his own bandages.
"He actually cleaned his wounds and everything," she said.
The UPMC Mercy Burn Center, among the first in the U.S., counted more than 2,600 outpatient visits and nearly 300 inpatient admissions last year.
A new addition to the event this year was the hospital's therapy dog, a golden retriever-poodle mix named Rudy.
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.