Didion Milling explosion victim speaks out - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Didion Milling explosion victim speaks out

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RANDOLPH (WKOW) -- Since the deadly explosion at the Didion Milling plant in Cambria, workers and the community have been nothing shy of resilient. One man who survived the blast serves as a dramatic example. His name is Collin Vander Galien, a 22-year-old from Randolph who still remembers that terrifying night in great detail. 

When he woke up at UW Hospital a day after the blast, he was dazed and confused.

"I didn't know if I had one leg, I didn't know if I had both legs, I didn't know if I had any legs," Vander Galien said. "Like a day later, I found out I didn't have any legs."

But how he got to that point is a story of determination, support and bravery. It's a survivor's story. 

The blast happened during the third shift on May 31, 2017. Vander Galien and his longtime friend Alex worked a different shift, but had volunteered to switch to third shift for a month because more manpower was needed. 

"It was more money, I was younger and everyone else pretty much had to work first shift so me and my buddy, Alex, worked night-shift. We volunteered to work together," Vander Galien said. 

He was loading a train cart when he stopped to take a short break, sitting inside the cart. 

"The explosion went off," he said. "I just blacked out for like a minute or so and woke up and looked around and I was covered with debris and pallets and bags all around me." 

He looked back to realize the train cart he was once inside was now on top of his legs as he laid on his stomach, screaming for help. 

"Alex came down the hole, screaming my name and then he found me. Basically, he stood there and held my hand and said we're going to get through this together, I'm not leaving," said Vander Galien. 

Alex suffered a concussion, but managed to call 911 to get help. 

"He hung up and then he actually butt-dialed his mom. So when he was saying we're going to get through this together and what not, his mom could hear the whole thing," he said. 

Alex's mom rushed over to Vander Galien's house to tell his parents about the call she had just received. Vander Galien's father was on a fishing trip in north Wisconsin. He got a call and got on the road. The entire family then turned to prayer. 

"They knew we were alive at that point but didn't know what was going on at that point," he said. 

Vander Galien would be stuck under the train and rubble for four hours as dozens of first responders tried aiding him. A surgeon arrived two hours in and decided both legs needed to be amputated at the scene. 

"I remember them saying we're going to have to amputate your legs to get you out of here. We can't lift the train up," Vander Galien recalled. 

After a two hour surgery beneath the debris, Vander Galien was rushed to a Flight for Life helicopter to be transported to UW Hospital in Madison. 

His next memory was waking up and seeing the light in his hospital room. 

"I remember seeing my dad, my sister, my uncle, my cousin -- all in the room. My mom. And (I was) just really confused," he remembered. 

Fast forward to the present day and Vander Galien is recovering well. He's confined to a wheelchair for now, but that won't last long. He's taking on physical therapy and fighting through the painful mornings and nights to make sure he'll walk again. With his mom and dad by his side, he has all the support he needs. 

Vander Galien will start outpatient physical therapy next week and will soon begin the process of being fitted for prosthetic legs. Doctors say he should be walking by Christmas.

The road going forward will be a tough and long journey. But it's one Vander Galien is more than willing to conquer.

"Things always happen for a reason. Anything can happen at any given moment. You got to not give up and make the best out of each situation," he said optimistically. 

It's an unmatched outlook that the inspirational young adult has as he continues to count his many blessings around him. One of those blessings is the team who helped save his life on that chaotic day. It's a team he got to meet for the first time on Thursday. 

"Each one served a purpose that night and I'm here now because of it," he said. "They gave me this bracelet that says,'You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.' I don't think I'll ever take a day off from wearing it," he added. 

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