Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t know there was anything wrong with his right hand until he heard his fiancee’s screams. That’s when he got his first look at the damage done by the infamous July 4 fireworks accident.
“I’m looking at my hand and I’m seeing every ligament,” the Giants defensive end told Sports Illustrated for an exclusive video that was posted online Tuesday and an article in this week’s magazine. “You only see this stuff in the movies . . . You see all your ligaments, your tendons, everything. I saw how the hand really is without skin on it.”
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In his first — and what he says will be his only — full retelling of the accident and the days that followed, including gruesome pictures of his hand in the immediate aftermath and throughout the healing process, Pierre-Paul described everything from the grassy area where he was shooting off the fireworks for the children in the Deerfield Beach, Florida, neighborhood where he grew up to the U-Haul full of the explosives. He said he was ready to stop for the night, but someone pointed out a few were left, so he decided to finish the lot.
A stubborn firework would not ignite, he said, and he attempted to light the fuse seven times. Then . . . boom.
“As soon as I saw the green light, I jumped,” he said. “I knew something dangerous was about to happen.”
It did. He was enveloped in a flash of light and smoke. The firework tore through his right hand, damaging his thumb and first two fingers and tearing off his skin.
“When I got up, my fiancee was just screaming,’’ Pierre-Paul said on the video. “I got up like it was normal, let me make sure I’m OK. I didn’t check my hand. Nobody got hurt or anything. Next thing I know, my fiancee is going crazy. I’m like: ‘What the [expletive] is your problem?’ She’s like: ‘Your hand!’ And I’m looking at my hand, and I’m like, ‘Oh, [expletive]!’ ”
Pierre-Paul said he remained calm as he wrapped his hand in a T-shirt and was driven to the hospital. He wasn’t in pain, he said, but he understood the gravity of the situation, how it might affect his NFL career, and, given the amount of blood he was losing, that he might die.
“I was just saying: ‘I messed up, I messed up, maybe my career could be over,’ ’’ he said in the video. “I was looking past, thinking more of my family and are they going to be OK, you know?’’
Pierre-Paul said he remembered everything up to the time he was admitted to the hospital. The last thing he recalls before he went unconscious was a directive to the doctors.
“Whatever y’all do,” he said, “do not cut my hand off.”
His index finger was amputated, the ends of his thumb and middle finger had to be removed, and skin grafts were required to contain it all. Some of the skin was taken from other parts of his body and still had tattoo ink from the original location. He remained in the hospital for 2 1⁄2 weeks under an alias.
When Giants representatives Ronnie Barnes and Jessie Armstead tried to visit him in the days after the accident, they were rebuffed. Pierre-Paul said his family made that decision as he was still in and out of consciousness and only able to moan in pain when he was alert. He said he didn’t know they had come until he saw reports about it on television from his hospital bed.
“If I knew they was there, they could have come in and I would have let them in,” he said. “The thing was, it was my family’s decision. I heard my mom came to the hospital and said, ‘My son’s dead.’ Because the doctors wouldn’t let any family member see me. I was just recovering and they didn’t want anyone bothering me.’’
Pierre-Paul lost 30 pounds while in the hospital. He gained about 20 of that back by October, when he finally signed with the Giants. He played his first game with a club to protect his right hand, but against the Patriots, his second game back, he tried using just a glove. That did not work. The bone in his middle finger came out. Doctors then had to trim the bone and sew it back in. He played the rest of the season with a club.
This season, according to the article, Pierre-Paul will wear a custom-made glove that will protect his hand. He also had offseason surgery on the middle finger to provide him with a better ability to grip. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants and remains convinced he will be able to return to his Pro Bowl level.
He’s also become involved with the amputee community and seems to be embracing his injury. He deleted all photos that show him with 10 fingers from his phones and social media accounts.
“This is going to stick with me for the rest of my life,’’ Pierre-Paul said. “I could sit here and mope around about things, but the reality is there are people going through worse than me. I’m still capable of living my dream and providing for my family and for my son. For that, I’m very proud.’’