'A HUMAN CANDLE': When a woman burst into flames in Cody Ceci's yard
July 6, 2018
July 6, 2018 4:58 PM EDT
Hana Engel before she suffered second and third degree burns to 35% of her body.Handout / Postmedia
The evening could not have been less foreboding.
Three professional hockey players and their partners gathered for a quiet dinner party in Stittsville early in their off-season. A bottle of wine sat on the table but this Wednesday in May was not a night for excess. A half-hour past the late-spring sunset, at about 9 p.m., the rectangular table-top fire pit was glowing, albeit dimmer at one end as fuel ran low on one of the cylinders.
At that point, something terrible occurred. A gas lamp bottle caught fire and then a woman caught fire. Screams pierced the stillness of the night. In a moment, lives were changed and relationships forever altered. And in the weeks that followed, the gossip around town escalated about just what went on in Cody Ceci’s backyard that night.
Stories took on a fictional life of their own. People were staggering drunk, some said. A fuel bottle exploded and a woman was facially disfigured, burned beyond all recognition, another story went.
The victim, Hana Engel, has come forward this week to share her incredible story and put to rest the Pinocchio tales that she has no nose.
In fact, while she continues to recover, Engel, 24, has scars and damage both physical and emotional that she will bear always, because of a few crazy seconds gone wrong at a backyard gathering. Her family and the love of her life, Jake Cardwell, are emotionally scarred from the incident, struggling to cope.
Nearly two full months after the fire that engulfed her body in flames, Engel still has mornings when she can barely move.
Her alarm is the physical pain that kicks in as early as 5 a.m., her neck stiff, and a feeling of “X-Acto knives running through my chest.”
Her boyfriend, former Ottawa 67’s defenceman Cardwell, 26, whose quick actions saved her life that night, continues to provide constant daily care, including hours of massage for her scars and tight skin, driving her to physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions. All while struggling to suppress the anger and frustration of this ongoing nightmare.
That evening of May 9 was fairly typical for three hockey players and their female partners, just after the ice chips had settled on their season. Cardwell and Engel, along with Ryan Van Stralen and his girlfriend, Emily, were dinner guests of Ottawa Senators defenceman Cody Ceci and his partner, Jamie Thompson.
In their teens, Ceci, Cardwell and Van Stralen were teammates on the 67’s. Now, Cardwell plays in the Czech Republic for HC Dynamo Pardubic while Van Stralen has a contract with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. Ceci, of course, an Orléans native, has been a member of the Ottawa Senators since 2012, when he was drafted in the first round, 15th overall.
The three couples were clustered around an outdoor table, Engel says, when Thompson noticed one of the fire pieces on the table was low on fuel. She returned with a bottle of fuel, squirted some into the fire piece but the live fire caught the stream of fuel and ran back up to the bottle, which erupted in flame. According to multiple people, Thompson squeezed the bottle, releasing more fuel, and then she instinctively threw the fiery bottle aside, hitting Engel directly.
Now covered in fuel and fire, Engel went up in flames.
“She was a human candle,” said Marc-Antoine Deschamps, spokesman for the Ottawa Paramedic Service.
Typical of someone on fire, Engel scrambled in panic.
“I ran like a chicken with my head cut off,” she says.
For a moment, as she bolted toward the grass she thought of jumping into the hot tub. A firefighter told her later, if she had, she would have died instantly. Fortunately, her instinct to raise her arms, cover her face and purse her lips prevented fuel and fire inhalation. Cardwell ran her down, smothered her to douse some of the flames and called on Van Stralen to bring the dog bowl of Engel and Cardwell’s English bulldog, Gwen. Only 10 minutes before, Cardwell had asked for the bowl — a specialized dog bowl connected to a large water jug — to be moved outside for Gwen’s sake, having no idea that that move would save Engel’s life. He frantically cracked the water jug over his knee into the bowl and threw the water on Engel’s face.
So precious were the seconds ticking, if he’d had to run to the kitchen to fetch the bowl and water it would have been too late.
After Engel had first ignited in flames, her T-shirt and leggings ablaze, Cardwell screamed so loud the backyard neighbours heard, from inside their house. As fate would have it, those neighbours included an off-duty firefighter and paramedic. They leaped over the fence to help out, applying specialized burn dressings, wrapping Engel in towels and providing pain medication.
“Am I going to die?” Engel called out to Cardwell. “No, No!” he shouted.
“Am I ever going to be beautiful again?” she asked.
“You are going to be beautiful to me, no matter what,” Cardwell said.
First responders and Cardwell helped Engel into the ambulance for the drive to the General campus of The Ottawa Hospital. He jumped into the front seat.
Hana Engel post-coma as she recovers from second and third degree burns to 35 per cent of her body. Handout / Postmedia
Hana Engel with her dog, Gwen. Handout / Postmedia
The next morning, Engel was airlifted to the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, a world-class facility at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. Officially cited as having second- and third-degree burns to 35 per cent of her body, including her arms, legs, torso and face, her situation was critical. Her family was told, rather clinically, that her condition was “survivable” but with no assurance she would make it.
Medical staff induced a coma that would last for three weeks. During that time, plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Cartotto performed roughly 18 hours of surgery, in three separate operations. The first lasted 12 hours.
Engel underwent 19 to 20 skin grafts, most of them sheet graphs, for better aesthetics, in which sheets of skin were removed from her legs and grafted onto her arms, hands and chest. And some on her stomach.
“He’s an artist,” Engel says. “He’s about to become president of the American burns association, he’s amazing. I’m so lucky he was there that night.”
In one of the most dramatic moments of the couple’s ordeal, medical staff asked Cardwell to sign permission forms for amputation of Engel’s left arm, in case they weren’t able to make an incision to enable the skin grafts. Cardwell screamed in protest and begged them to hurry to make the incision. Her arm was saved, though it continues to give Engel trouble. While in the coma, Engel developed pneumonia.
Cardwell rarely left Engel’s side. He told her he loved her and kissed her, though she was not conscious. Engel’s mother moved to Toronto to be with her, while Engel’s brother, Matt, packed up with his wife from New York City so he could be nearby.
Engel’s father, well-known Ottawa criminal lawyer Bruce Engel, the strongest man Engel knows, collapsed to his knees when Cardwell first called him with the news of Engel’s burns. In hospital, he passed out when he first saw her.
During her coma, an agonizing vigil for the family, Engel says she had a vision. She says she saw her beloved grandmother, shrouded in shadow.
When Engel finally came to, the day before her 24th birthday, after three comatose weeks, she asked her family, “Where is grandma?”
They were freaked. They had wanted to spare Engel the news: Her grandmother, Roslyn Byer, had died suddenly on May 17, one week after Engel was injured. From the depths of her coma, somehow Engel knew. Byer was buried in Montreal with a photograph of a young Engel pinned to her clothes. Engel takes some solace in the fact Byer didn’t have to see her precious granddaughter so badly injured.
“It’s hard to know I wasn’t there,” Engel says, breaking down. “She was my best friend.”
On her worst days, Engel pictured herself waking up with her face “sewn up, deformed.” Thanks to the quick actions of Cardwell, and the proximity of Gwen’s dog bowl, her face suffered lighter burns, which are healing.
In the burn unit, she witnessed horrific injuries, including a woman who was involved in a helicopter crash into a land mine 18 years ago. Little was left of her, yet she soldiered on. Her story gave Engel strength.
Ceci and Thompson visited Engel in hospital. Engel has sought to forgive and has been extremely protective of Ceci, knowing his fame in Ottawa as a hockey player, and knowing the last thing the Senators need is another story about a major incident involving players and their partners. Just last month, Mike Hoffman was traded from the Senators after it was revealed that Hoffman’s fiancée, Monika Caryk, is alleged to have engaged in online harassment of Erik Karlsson’s wife, Melinda. The case remains under investigation.
But Engel did want to tell her story. In Ottawa’s small, but-not-that-small, hockey community, rumours can run rampant, the truth becoming a Frankenstein creation. Engel wanted to set the record straight.
Facebook photo of Cody Ceci and Jamie Thompson. Facebook / Postmedia
This newspaper reached out to Ceci to speak on behalf of him and Thompson. He declined an invitation to be interviewed but sources say he and Thompson are deeply affected by what happened at their home.
On Thursday, Ceci’s agent, J.P. Barry, provided a lengthy statement from Ceci.
“Earlier this spring, there was an unfortunate accident at my home that resulted in a close friend being injured. I want to take this opportunity to express my sorrow over this accident and sincere concern for the health and well-being of my friend. I hope the entire community can join me in praying she will make a full recovery,” the statement says.
“I am deeply sorry that this unfortunate accident took place. My girlfriend and I have visited and texted with our friend to offer our support and convey directly to her our thoughts, prayers and best wishes for a complete recovery.
“At this most sensitive time for her and her loved ones, I hope that others, including the media, will join me in respecting the privacy of my friend and those affected by this accident by not commenting further, including online and through social media.”
Meanwhile, Engel, after nearly two months at the burn centre and St. John’s Rehab at Sunnybrook, has been confined to her west-end Ottawa home, unable to stay outdoors in the heat or be in the sun. For a year, she can’t wear makeup, or fabrics that will irritate her skin, such as a pair of blue jeans.
Arising from her coma, Engel had to learn to walk again, learn to eat again, to see (at one stage there were concerns she would lose vision in one eye). She must wear compression garments to help the healing process.
There was no crime involved. Engel’s family has retained lawyer Howard Yegendorf, who deals with catastrophic injury cases.
Contacted by this newspaper, Yegendorf said there has been no civil suit filed. He declined further comment about any potential legal action.
Engel knows it will take some time for her and family to heal, in every way. Her sister-in-law, Carli, is struggling and her father was so distraught he couldn’t work for the first weeks after his daughter’s injury. Today, he is writing a book about the entire episode, an undertaking that could prove cathartic. Engel’s mother, Bonnie, has had to grieve the loss of her own mother while dealing with grievous injuries to her daughter. Engel’s sister, Sabrina, did not want to leave her side, massaging her scars in hospital.
For Engel and Cardwell, the immediate future is not clear. The ModernBody yoga business on Carling Avenue she launched with the help of her father continues to operate in her absence, but she doesn’t know if she can return there. The hot yoga therein is a constant reminder of the fire that hurt her.
“It’s sad because that was my baby,” Engel says of her business, once a symbol of her progress against personal body image concerns and a new lifestyle of fitness and diet as part of a successful personal battle against Crohn’s disease.
Despite a good European contract, Cardwell won’t return to the Czech Republic to play this fall because he wants to be near Engel and her network of support and physical therapy. He hopes to connect with a pro team within a few hours driving distance of Ottawa.
Engel, still afraid to be alone, needs to be near him as they both pick up the pieces of their lives.
Tips for dealing with bodily fire involving flammable liquid
Would a hot tub kill a person engulfed in flames from a flammable liquid?
“Personally, I have to question that a little bit,” said Ottawa’s deputy fire Chief Paul Hutt. “I know there are chemicals in there. This was a flammable liquid, which is called a Type 2 fire.
“We are always taught not to apply water because it spreads the fuel load in the fire. But in this particular case, the volume of water would have smothered or superseded that.
“So, jumping into the hot tub could have been a viable option, for sure. More importantly, though, what we should be suggesting is the preferred method when your clothing is on fire with a flammable liquid: the old fashioned stop, drop and roll. Smothering the fire is probably best.”
Hutt says that while the volume of water can be an asset in extinguishing a blaze, if the water is not clean, there is risk of infection. Also, cold water is better because skin continues to burn until it cools.
“My thoughts go out to that courageous woman,” Hutt said. “Any fire injury is horrific.”
Woman who burst into flames in NHLer's yard calls for safety regulations
More from Canadian Press
July 14, 2018
July 14, 2018 4:39 PM EDT
OTTAWA — An Ottawa woman who caught fire in a friend’s backyard says there should be more safety regulations in place for backyard fire products.
Hana Engel was left with second- and third-degree burns to 35 per cent of her body after an accident on May 9 that involved an outdoor fire pit table.
Her entire body went up in flames that night in NHL player Cody Ceci’s backyard.
Jagged and painful scars cover her arms, legs and torso. Multiple surgeries and more than 15 skin grafts helped her survive, but she said her life has permanently changed.
She wakes up most mornings unable to move because of stiffness and pain.
Two months after her accident, the 24-year-old said more safety rules should be implemented.
“I’d like to see a requirement, if you have a fire pit … or a bonfire, to have a fire blanket nearby or water so you have tools to save the person properly, instead of panicking,” she said.
‘A HUMAN CANDLE’: When a woman burst into flames in Cody Ceci’s yard
The night of Engel’s ordeal started off mundane enough. It was a Wednesday in the spring, and she and her boyfriend, former OHL player Jake Cardwell, 26, went to eat dinner with Ceci and his girlfriend and another couple in Ceci’s backyard.
Engel recalls much of what happened leading up to the accident. The couples were sitting around an outdoor fire pit table. But when it started to die out, Engel said one of the others fetched a bottle of fuel and poured some on the fire. But the flames ran up the flow of fuel and set the bottle on fire, and it was then thrown on Engel — who immediately burst into flames.
“It was actually crazy, it happened so fast,” she said. The “stop, drop and roll” mantra that she learned in kindergarten came back into her mind, and she ran onto a grass portion of the backyard to do that.
Cardwell screamed, Engel said, and jumped on top of her to help smother the flames, as they weren’t receding. He used his dog’s water bowl, that was connected to a jug, to douse Engel.
Engel said she thought she was going to die as her body kept burning. She told Cardwell that she loved him, and asked him to tell her family the same.
“I laid on the ground, I was mainly in shock. I was going in and out of consciousness,” she said.
An ambulance eventually arrived and took Engel to the Ottawa Hospital, where she was put into a medically induced coma for three weeks. During that time, three surgeries were performed including skin grafts on her entire chest, arms and legs.
“I’m lucky that my neck and face were saved,” she said, adding that both are still burnt.
In the time since her accident, Engel has been surrounded by her family and Cardwell. She’s been released from the Ross Tilley Burn Centre in Toronto and now lives at home in Ottawa.
She has to stay mostly indoors to avoid the sun, she said. Cardwell has been keeping her company during his off-season, and is looking for a new contract nearby.
“He’s taking care of me and we’re both taking care of each other, and trying to be strong for each other,” she said, adding that Cardwell tells her he loves her and that she’s beautiful, but the scars are a reminder of what happened.
Although doctors don’t have a strict timeline for her recovery, Engel said she is starting to feel like herself again. She runs a yoga studio in Ottawa, but is unsure if she can return to work.
If you’re near a fire pit this summer, Engel said she’d remind people not to play with fuel and know how to safely operate your pit.
Ceci provided a statement to The Canadian Press via his agent, J.P. Barry, expressing his sorrow over the accident concern about Engel’s well-being.
“I am deeply sorry that this unfortunate accident took place,” Ceci said in the statement.
Marion Kuiper-Lampman, president of the Niagara District Volunteer Firefighters Association, said you should never pour any kind of fuel on outdoor fire products, and you should always follow the label instructions.
Stop, drop and roll is the best action to take if you are on fire, Kuiper-Lampman said. She also advised keeping a bucket of water nearby if you have a backyard fire, but not to jump into a chlorinated pool as that could sting.
Stunned hockey world mourns Ray Emery
July 15, 2018
July 15, 2018 7:20 PM EDT
Forward Brian McGrattan, middle, and goalie Ray Emery, right, were good friends during their time together with the Ottawa Senators. McGrattan mourned Emery on Twitter on Sunday. Jim Wells/PostmediaJim Wells / Jim Wells/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency
The hockey world reacted to the sudden passing of Ray Emery with extreme shock and sorrow on Sunday.
Clearly, the man they called “Razor” had many friends in the game.
“I am f—ing crushed,” former National Hockey League forward Daniel Carcillo, who played with Emery in Chicago and envied his “demeanor” and “contagious personality,” wrote on Twitter. “You will be missed deeply Ray. I love you, man.”
Also close to Emery was Dave Bolland, another Blackhawks teammate.
“Lost my golfing buddy and my best friend today,” Bolland tweeted. “Uncle Ray Ray touched a lot of hearts and people. Love and miss ya.”
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk issued a statement about Emery, who was part of the Ottawa organization from the day he was drafted by the club in 2001 until 2009.
“On behalf of the Ottawa Senators, I wish to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Ray Emery. Ray was instrumental in our run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, and at his best he brought a competitive edge and combative mentality to the game. On behalf of our entire organization, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ray’s family, friends and loved ones,” Melnyk’s statement read.
Former Senators chief executive officer and president Roy Mlakar tweeted as well: “So sad to lose a great person, competitor, charitable player in my friend Razor. We will miss you, bud.”
Brian McGrattan, far left, and Ray Emery, second from left, arrive at an Ottawa church with Jason Spezza, right, for Spezza’s wedding ceremony in 2009. Jana Chytilova/Postmedia files Jana Chytilova / The Ottawa Citizen
During his time with the Senators, Emery became close to forwards Brian McGrattan and Jason Spezza. McGrattan posted a picture of himself and Emery from years ago.
“My best friend. My brother. I love you!,” he added.
Also remembering Emery was former Senator Nick Foligno, now captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“So saddened of the tragic news of Ray Emery’s passing,” Foligno wrote on Twitter. “We played together for only a short time, but he was a great teammate and competitor. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, May he Rest in Peace.”
Other players who were never NHL teammates of Emery’s joined in expressing the deep bond of the hockey fraternity.
“Rest in peace, brother,” tweeted Edmonton Oilers winger Milan Lucic.
“Horrible to hear about Ray Emery,” tweeted Toronto Maple Leafs winger William Nylander, who played briefly with Emery in the minors. “He was an incredible teammate.”
Emery left his mark with Flyers teammates during his two stints in Philadelphia
“Ray was a great teammate and an even better friend,” Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux tweeted. “Rest in peace, Razor. I’ll miss you, man.”
Added the Flyers’ Scott Laughton: “At a loss for words. An Incredible teammate and stall mate. RIP, Razor.”
Tweeted winger Jakub Voracek: “F— me, Razor. You were the best. RIP.”
And then there was this from Hall of Famer Bernie Parent, the best Flyers goalie of all time
“All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile. Rest in Peace my friend, Ray Emery.”