DALLAS — "He's a terrific husband," said Tina Patterson, "and an incredible father."
She smiled broadly talking about Jeff, a Dallas firefighter for almost six years. She said the reason he wanted to be a firefighter was to have a job with a purpose.
Together, they were raising two children and loving their quiet life filled with the best kind of joy.
But now, they struggle with the worst kind of pain.
"I can't hold his hands. They're bandaged," she said. "I can barely touch his face sometimes."
It is a rare moment to find Tina Patterson away from the intensive care unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital. She has spent most every hour by her husband's side since May 3.
That's when Jeff was fighting a fire at a Southeast Dallas home in the 4700 block of Chilton Drive. Something went wrong. Jeff was trapped, and had to fight to get out.
"Just recently, he's given me the detailed account that he felt something collapse and the fire come over him. Things went black quickly," his wife described. "He struggled to get out because he felt the heat of the fire."
Tina knows Jeff's fellow firefighters were about to go back into the fully-engulfed home to get him, putting them all in danger's way.
"But Jeff managed to get to a window where he tapped and they saw him. And they were able to pull him out... so he, in a sense, saved himself... and saved all the other guys who would have come in, and probably gotten hurt trying to find him," Tina said.
Jeff escaped, but suffered massive injuries. He has third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body. The skin grafts that were done to cover the burns developed a dangerous fungus and had to all be taken away.
He suffered lung damage, underwent dialysis, and has battled pneumonia twice.
This weekend marks eight weeks since the fire. And for the better part of six weeks, Jeff could not communicate.
He was in a medically-induced coma.
"It's only been up to maybe 10 days ago that he's been out of the coma," Tina said. "It is catastrophic. And I've been told that the fire department has not seen an injury like this in over 15 years — something this severe, where someone actually lived."
It is traumatic, but Tina Patterson is not alone. She is heaping praise on friends and family who are stepping up to help her care for the couple's young son and daughter. But she's also overwhelmed, she says, by the support of people who were — until just weeks ago — total strangers.
"I could not imagine this without the help of the fire department, the brotherhood," she said.
The widow of Dallas firefighter Scott Tanksley, who lost his life in February, has offered emotional and even financial support. So has the family of Joe Yeakley, an East Texas firefighter who was also burned earlier this year.
Tina said the doctors and nurses at Parkland have been an amazing presence through the ordeal, and she credits them with keeping her husband alive.
And then there are the men and women of Dallas Fire-Rescue, who are keeping an almost nonstop vigil at her side. Tina said Jeff can't have visitors, but a fire department chaplain came in to offer prayers, and he asked that she tell their fellow firefighters not to forget him.
Tina went to the hall to get a book that's been signed by the hundreds of visitors he's had.
"And he was so struck. It was awesome for him. He told me to tell them he appreciates them, he loves them. He said to tell them thank you, even though he can't talk or see them. So, he's aware," Tina said.
Friends and several members of Dallas Fire-Rescue are planning a fundraiser this weekend at The Truck Yard. Details are available at this Facebook link.
"We are proud people. We think we can do it on our own. We work hard; we don't think we're deserving of this charity because there's always someone needier out there," Tina said.
She then admitted she is so appreciative that there is help for her family because, "It's difficult. It can be financially taxing."
"I can't speak enough about how much it's touched me. There are a lot of bad things that happen, but there's a lot of good... a lot of good, and I'm blessed to see it every day."
"God knows that we've had miracles along the way," she said.
They need another. Jeff Patterson remains a critical patient — too critical for doctors to make any promises, Tina said, but she knows he's fighting to make it home to her and their children. And she believes he will win.
"I have a special man," she said. "People say firefighters are heroes, but he's our hero. He's being a hero because he's in a lot of pain, he's suffering, but he always says, 'I'm OK, I'm OK, just tell me what do to, I'm OK.' I'm blessed to have a man like that in my life."