Having faced adversity, Manny Gonzalez faces challenges head-on. He dedicates his life to sharing what he has learned, helping others succeed in overcoming their adversity and empowering them to live life to the fullest.
Manny, a retired US Marine, has overcome physical and mental challenges in his life. He suffered career-ending injuries in 1996 when a brush fire started while his unit was conducting combat exercises. As Manny grabbed his gear to escape the flames, he saw a Marine on the ground at the base of the hill where they were training. Without concern for his own safety, he ran back. After assisting the fellow Marine to his feet, Manny realized they were trapped by a wall of fire. After an unsuccessful attempt to climb to safety, the only option for survival was to go through the wall of flames.
Manny’s actions that day changed his life forever.
He was airlifted to the University of California in the San Diego Burn Center. He sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns over approximately 80% of his body. The doctors gave him a 1% chance of survival. Unbeknownst to Manny, he began the fight for his life. Spending the first month and a half in a drug-induced coma, he underwent multiple surgeries. In total, Manny spent approximately four months in the hospital, followed by a year of outpatient therapy.
During that time, he returned to his family in Chicago. Manny was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 1998, due to the severity of his injuries.
Manny supports burn survivors and Veterans by volunteering through various organizations. He has served as a counselor at the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s children’s burn camp, Camp “I Am Me”, and the National Spokesperson for Burn Survivors for the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation. Manny is active with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, as a peer supporter and as an instructor for the SOAR Program. He currently serves on the Illinois Secretary of State’s Veterans Advisory Council. He works for the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a Patient Advocate at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, giving a voice to those who need help being heard.
Manny’s story of triumphing over adversity empowers those who hear his message to overcome obstacles, look for the positives in change, and to live life to its fullest.