Burn victims form special friendship while recovering in Chicago

When they nearly lost it all, two complete strangers found something to live for — in each other.

The men, both burn survivors, happened to be receiving treatment at Chicago’s world renowned Shirley Ryan AbilityLab at the very same time.

Twenty-year-old Sam Matthews of Rossville was planning to take over his family farm. In February, while visiting his girlfriend, a nightmare unfolded.

"We woke up in the middle of the night to people yelling, ‘Fire!’ and we tried to get out of the house and I ended up getting burned on my way out," said Matthews, who suffered burns over 85 percent of his body.

Less than a month later, in Indiana, 24-year-old Hunter Valles was on the job at a steel mill.

"I was involved in a work explosion," said Valles, who is now confined to a wheelchair and severely burned. He longs for what he loves, riding his Harley, spending time with friends and fishing.


In a twist of fate, both men were approved for treatment at the same time at the AbilityLab. Emily Sanders is their occupational therapist.

"To be able to go through the rehabilitation process with someone who just gets it and really understands it from a personal level, I think is invaluable," said Sanders.

Valles and Matthews became instant friends. Through joint therapy sessions, they pushed each other and planned for the future.

"He talks about whichever of us can drive first, we're going to be visiting each other," said Matthews.

"I think that's the most important thing, is to feel like their experience is normal, their struggles are normal, but their successes, they can celebrate together," added Sanders.

Both men have returned home to their families. They are waiting for the day they can plan for that first road trip together.