FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Ace Santoyo has worked with burn patients for 28 years at the Leon S. Peters Burn Center at Community Regional Medical Center in Downtown Fresno.
That is unheard of in most burn units. Because of the intensity of care, most therapists quit after two years. But Ace is one of a kind.
For Pete Dern, he proved to be more than a therapist. He was a cheerleader, a psychologist, and a friend. For the first couple of months, Ace simply moved Pete's arms and legs in the hospital bed. But one day, Ace came in and said, "We're getting up today."
"I was ready to get up and run down the hall and get out of there. So he stood me up," Pete said. "I stood there for less than a minute and thought I was going to pass out. He sat me back down and said, 'good job,'"
Ace says he could tell Pete wanted to move, but his body was saying no you're not. So they stood, they sat, and Pete went right back to bed.
"I also sensed that he was scared. He was like 'here I was very active, firefighter, top of the roofs, all that stuff. And I get injured' - which is part of the job mostly - but he got really injured," Santoyo said. " And now he can't stand. Now I don't know if I'll be able to walk. Now I don't know if I'm going to be able to do anything."
It was as if Ace could read Pete's mind.
"That night I remember lying there thinking 'Wow, I'll never walk again.' It was horrible," Pete said.
But Pete did walk, with Ace's encouragement and intense therapy.
"Ace said, 'you're out of the room, let's walk to Bora Bora.' And I kinda chuckled because I knew I was on a lot of pain meds but I could still remember Bora Bora was an island," Pete said. "I thought 'this guy's crazy. But if you wanna walk, then let's walk.'"
"Every day we would do his exercises and we would try to go a little bit further. And as he got stronger, we would get closer and closer and closer," Ace said. "And I took the long route.... the scenic route and made him walk a little further."
One day they arrived at Bora Bora. A beautiful picture of the tiny island in the South Pacific. After many laps to Bora Bora over the next several months, Pete vowed he would one day visit the real Bora Bora.
And, he did. He and his wife, Kelly and some close firefighter friends made it to the island. While there, they took a picture and sent a message back to the guy who helped Pete get there.
PART ONE: The Pete Dern Story: The day life changed
PART TWO: The Pete Dern Story: Pete's hands
The Pete Dern Story: Going to Bora Bora