Alex Childress was working at his summer landscaping job when he came into contact with Giant Hogweed, a plant that is known to cause burns and even permanent blindness if handled incorrectly. The 17-year-old incoming college freshman said that he didn’t know it was Hogweed.
“We were working outside a factory and I snipped down a bush and it fell and touched my face,” Childress said to NBC12. “I didn’t pay any mind to it because I do it all the time.”
Childress was reportedly taken to the burn center at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was treated for three days, then sent home, but still has daily wound care, which he explains on his GoFundMe page as “debriding the burns to remove dead skin.”
Childress is an incoming college student for Virginia Tech, who may not be able to afford attending the college anymore. Here’s what you need to know.
1. His Second and Third Degree Burns Covered Parts of His Face & Arm
By the time Childress was able to get to the hospital and seek treatment for the Hogweed, the top layer of his face was gone, according to his father, Justin Childress.
“It felt like I had a sunburn, I didn’t really pay attention to it,” Childress told NBC12, “then I got in the shower, and my face just started peeling.”
To the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he said, “The top layer of skin on the left side of his face basically was gone and appeared to be like a really bad burn that had already peeled.”
Childress has suffered second and third degree burns to his face and left arm as the result of his contact with the plant. Justin Childress told the Times-Dispatch that Childress will now have to avoid sunlight for a long time, and to use a really high SPF sunscreen whenever he is in the sun.
2. He’s on a Full Ride Scholarship to Virginia Tech
Childress was given a full ride to Virginia Tech with the intent to enroll in the Corps of Cadets in the fall. The program defines itself as a “world-class leader development program,” and is a four-year commitment in which students are required to wear uniforms throughout their time as students.
The Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech is one of six senior military colleges in the country (outside of the five federal military academies), and it’s one of only two public large universities in the nation which has a full time Corps of Cadets, the other being Texas A&M.
“I know my skin will be sensitive to light for a few months,” Childress said to NBC 12. “I’m hoping that scholarship will still be available for me.”
3. His Mother is a Nurse & Was the One Who Suggested It Might Be Hogweed
Childress didn’t immediately do anything about the Hogweed, which is partially why his burns are so severe. “I did have the sap on me, but if you wash it away quickly it’s more like poison ivy,” Childress said to NBC 12. “The longer it sits in the sun, the more potent and toxic it gets.”
However, it was when he arrived home and spoke to his mother that she noticed the second and third degree burns on his arm and face. She suggested his burns could be due to Hogweed. Childress’s father, Justin Childress, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “I walked inside and Alex, he was like, ‘I got really bad sunburn’… And Alex doesn’t burn. He tans.”
The Giant Hogweed plant is a large green plant with a white bloom on top, but it’s the sap that the plant contains that’s dangerous, especially if left to photosynthesize in the sun. The plant is only supposed to be handled with gloves and proper eyecare, Newsweek reports, and the burns that it causes can lead to permanent scarring and blistering.
4. He Was a Wrestling & Track Star in High School
Justin Childress told WTVR that his son had to overcome a “bad football injury” to become successful in the sports of track and wrestling at his high school in Spotsylvania.
Justin Childress cited his son’s experience with an injury as a point of evidence for how he would deal with this latest setback, explaining that Childress had dislocated his kneecap playing for Spotsylvania High’s football team this previous winter. He was told that it would take seven to nine months to heal. However, Childress was back on the wrestling team within two months, and placed sixth in the state in his 220 pound weight class at the end of the season.
Justin Childress said, “I’ve got to give it to him, he’s probably the toughest kid I know…He took it with good spirits.”
In another interview Justin Childress reiterated his belief that his son would be able to overcome this injury. “It’s a traumatic experience…I just don’t say it because he’s my kid, but he’s one of the toughest kids that I’ve ever seen.”
5. He Might Lose His Scholarship Now Due to a Medical Disqualification
Childress’s full ride to Virginia Tech might now be at risk due to a potential medical disqualification from his burns. In Childress’s GoFundMe page, he writes, “I wont be able to work the rest of the summer, and we also don’t know if my employers’ insurance is going to cover medical bills. I have a scholarship to Virginia Tech with the Army ROTC but I may end up loosing it now because of medical disqualification.”
Of donating, Childress added, “If you can help it would be great. I will use any funds for supplies for college if I can still attend this fall, and medical bills from being in the Burn ICU.”
Childress’s GoFundMe is currently halfway to its goal of $10,000, which has been raised by 124 people in the last 13 hours.