CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A badly-burned little boy from Atlanta, Georgia, is counting down his final days in the Queen City.
He's been a patient at Shriners Hospital since June. Doctors are doing amazing work in Cincinnati and actually growing new skin from his own skin.
Doctors at Shriners Hospital For Children and scientists at UC performed a revolutionary procedure on Alfred Real, creating brand new skin for his body, after a gas can exploded in his yard back in June.
The experience changed him and his family's lives forever.
The 8-year-old waved to our camera from a balcony inside the hospital. He's on top of the world now and recovering fast.
Real got real shy once we turned our cameras on but answered most of our questions.
"How many surgeries did he undergo?" we asked Chief of Staff at Shriners, Dr. Richard Kagen. "I have no idea," he laughed. "Lots!"
Kagen is one of two surgeons who re-built Alfred's skin. Initially, they replaced his burned skin with cadaver or other artificial skin as temporary covers, while they waited for new skin to grow, using Alfred's own skin cells. It takes about 3 weeks to grow a sheet the size of a piece of paper.
"One of our goals was to try to use some of the un-burned skin from his scalp for his face first so we'd get the best cosmetic results," Kagen said.
Alfred wears clear, protective mask on his face to protect it and to act as a compression agent for the scars from his multiple surgeries and skin grafts.
"Can you feel pressure on your face?" we asked him. "No", he said. "Is it uncomfortable?" and again a polite 'no'.
We asked Alfred about the fire.
"What happened?" we asked, but his eyes got wide at the thought of recounting it and he remained silent.
"I think it's going to be a psycho-social recovery," Kagen said. "Getting over what he remembers of the incident, getting over the trauma of being exposed to his friends who will see him looking different."
Alfred's therapists said he worked hard, re-learning to walk and balance himself.
"Stretching," he said with a smile.
"Are they sore?" we asked, referring to his legs while he was walking tentatively across the floor. "Yes," he replied. "Does the therapy make it feel better? " we asked. "No," he giggled.
Alfred wears a full-body compression suit, which looks like a super-hero, and has his favorite action-hero blazing across his chest, the Wolverine.
"So you can wiggle your toes, right? No problem there, fingers, yes, wiggle your nose," we said and he wiggled all of them laughing.
"Feel like you're ready to run a race yet?" we asked. "No," he said rolling his eyes and laughing.
"Were you ever worried you weren't going to be able to get up and move around again?" we asked. He shook his head yes.
His parents are ecstatic.
"This is a great town," his mother Angela Schillaci Real said. "We've turned into Reds fans, Bengals fans, and everybody's been really good to us here."
"He had such a limited amount of un-burned skin that would be useable as a donor site," his father Zac Real said. "I don't see how we could have done it without the care that is only available here in Cincinnati."
"One of the things I'm happiest about right now," his mother said. "Is to be back as a family with my three sons together, my husband."
And, soon there will be a new addition coming to the family.
"A dog!" Alfred said, his eyes lighting up. This was one of the promises his parents made him, that once he got out of the hospital, he could have a dog. Alfred's already got a name picked-out, "Luigi".
"A chocolate lab," Alfred said with a big smile.
"So, who helped you come up with the name or was that your choice?," we asked. "That was my choice," he said proudly.
Alfred's 3rd grade classmates have a teddy bear saving his seat until he comes back. He'll be back here in Cincinnati in two weeks for a check-up. We'll certainly keep you posted on how Alfred and his family are doing.