A 17-year-old from Virginia ended up in the hospital after a close encounter with an invasive plant while he was pulling weeds during his summer landscaping job. Alex Childress had no idea the sap from the giant plant he was disposing of was capable of burning his skin. He said he thought nothing of it as he cut down the plant and threw it away. Childress told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he assumed he had just gotten sunburned from being outside all day. It wasn't until he got home and took a shower he realized something was wrong.
“I thought I just had sunburn, so I didn’t really pay any attention. Then I got in the shower and I started rubbing my face,” he recalled. “I thought it was just a little bit of skin at first, but then big chunks of my face were falling off.”
When he showed the burns to his mother, who works as a nurse at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University, she had a feeling he had come in contact with an invasive plant known as a giant hogweed, which has sap that causes serious burns and can even cause people to go blind if they get the sap in their eyes.
Childress was rushed to the hospital where he spent two days in intensive care receiving painful treatment for the second and third-degree burns he suffered. He has since returned home from the hospital but his ordeal is not over.
“I have to change the bandages every day,” he explained. “It’s painful. Every time I take the bandage off there’s drainage. My arm is bleeding because the skin is trying to heal. It’s more than half my face and from my wrist up to the top of my bicep on my right arm.”
On top of that, Childress cannot be out in the sun for the next few months, and his face could be sensitive to sunlight for the next two years. He could also lose his ROTC scholarship to attend Virginia Tech in the fall.
“I worked hard to get the scholarship,” he says. “When my face heals, I have to go through a whole medical waiver process to make sure they won’t pull my scholarship. It’s a possibility I won’t be able to [attend in the fall], so that’s been a real struggle for my family.”