Bouncing back from a tragedy

Community donations of more than $100,000 helped pay medical bills.



NEW CASTLE, Pa. — It has been nearly a year since the house on Franklin Avenue exploded, and the two most severely injured victims say their lives are finally back on track.

Jared and Sophie Baker say they couldn’t have gotten through the last 12 months without the support and encouragement of the community, which helped them through tough emotional, medical and financial crisis.

“I have been reading letters sent to us. Some were very heart-touching like children saying they wanted to donate to us instead of getting Christmas presents,” said Sophie Baker, 22.

The community outpouring helped the newlyweds pay for the massive medical bills that mounted for both, but especially Sophie, who spent two months in the hospital — much of that time in a coma — and time in a nursing home.

The couple estimates her medical care cost at more than $1 million. She was without health insurance when the Nov. 27, 2006, blast occurred, but was able to get on a state-aided health insurance after the blast that paid a good portion of the medical costs.

The $100,000 in community donations paid what health insurance didn’t cover and the cost of a nursing home where Sophie Baker spent three weeks after being released from the hospital.

Shortly after the blast, community dinners and blood drives were held for the couple.

The couple said Thursday at a press conference at the office of their attorney Frank Natale that they are truly thankful for the community effort.

“They got donations from as far away as Florida. Seeing the good side of human nature is refreshing,” Natale said.

And the fact that they were victims of the blast, an apparent suicide attempt by Jared Baker’s co-worker, has not diminished their trust in people or willingness to help others.

The Bakers went to 833 Franklin Ave. to check on the welfare of Patrick Henry, a co-worker who failed to show up or call off work at EaCo Chem in Shenango Township.

When they arrived, there was a strong smell of natural gas, and Jared Baker, 24, tried to call for help on his cellular phone. It was then the house exploded, sending appliances and pieces of the house spewing into the neighborhood.

Sophie Baker said she remembers her husband making the telephone call and her next memory being shaken by her husband after the blast.

Jared Baker left the hospital a few days after the blast with visible burns on his face, hands and arms. His wife remained in the hospital, undergoing skin-graft surgeries to cover her burns, and remained in a medically induced coma to help her cope with the pain.

Jared Baker said some doctors were unsure she would survive but he put his trust in God that she would pull through.

Today, there is a scar on her neck where doctors inserted a tracheotomy tube and visible scars on her arms and legs. Sophie Baker said she must wear compression garments on her arms and legs for the next few years to help heal. Jared Baker said his scars have healed well, and the only lasting effect is that cold weather bothers his hands where there were burns.

Otherwise, the scars of that day are mostly emotional, he said.

Jared Baker returned to his job at EaCo Chem after a few months. Sophie Baker returned to her work as a massage therapist last summer and also works part time at EaCo Chem as a sales representative.

“We still trust people just the same,” Jared Baker said. He said he would even like to see Henry again and check on his welfare.

Henry is being held in jail awaiting trial on more than 100 charges filed as a result of the blast. He is scheduled to go to trial in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court in January.

The couple say they do not intend to file any lawsuits as a result of the blast.

Their attorney said they have both recovered well and the community donations have covered their medical costs.

The Bakers say they are ready to move on with their lives. They have bought a home in New Castle with help from Jared Baker’s father.

Sophie Baker said her injuries have taught her how much we all rely on others.

She also learned that she can rely on her husband the most.

Jared Baker visited her every night after leaving work. Once she was released from a Pittsburgh hospital, that meant a two-hour drive to Andover, Ohio, to the nursing home where she was placed. It was there she learned to walk, eat and talk again, she said.

“I just know he would stand by my side basically through anything. He stayed by my side through this and will be there for the rest of my life,” she said.

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