Mario Frias

Mario Frias, pictured with his occupational therapist, Sarah Garza

Mario Frias never liked to dwell on or sulk in the face of tragedy, even if nobody would blame him for doing so. 

“I don’t like being sad,” the 17-year-old Plano resident said. “Why think negatively if it already happened?”

Frias expressed his simple philosophy of pragmatic optimism in a conference call with the Plano Star Courier and Sarah Garza, an occupational therapist at the Children's Health Andrews Institute that has been helping him adjust to life following the most physically and mentally traumatic moment of his life. 

In December 2021, Frias was in Chihuahua, Mexico vacationing with his family. Taking part in an ATV race, Frias took a different route that prompted him to make a slight turn, which caused the vehicle to flip over and land on his left hand. 

“The closest hospital was 50 minutes away,” Frias recalled. “But I didn’t go straight to the hospital; I had to go to my uncle’s place.”

While Frias and his uncle worked with great haste to get the injury treated, there was heavy traffic on the roads as they drove to the hospital in a tiny car that he said could not go fast enough.

When they arrived at the hospital, they wouldn't administer emergency care until they paid. When they did, the health care workers did little more than put hydrogen peroxide on the wound. 

Later that month, Frias returned to the United States, where he underwent surgery at UT Southwestern. There, doctors were only able to salvage one finger. 

Following this treatment, it was later discovered by doctors at the Children's Health Emergency Department that the incision site on Frias's left hand was infected despite the best efforts of antibiotics, which prompted doctors to amputate the hand entirely. 

“I took everything for granted,” Frias said. 

Following the amputation, Frias went into the care of Garza. 

“The first time I saw him, he was in a lot of pain,” Garza said, adding that he suffered from phantom pain. “When he had his injury, his hand was in a fist is what he felt. It was one of the biggest things, because that kept him awake at night due to the pain.”

Using mirror therapy (a post-amputation treatment where patients use a mirror to look on the side of their "good" limb while making symmetrical movements with their amputated limb) helped Frias relax the muscles near the surgical site. This resulted to gradual improvements to a point where he was eventually able to sleep without pain. 

These improvements have extended to ensuring Frias's independence. Since the start of his therapy, Frias has been able to put a jacket on and drive. Earlier during the treatment, Garza gave Frias a long-handled sponge brush to make bathing easier for him. 

But Garza said her sights are set on helping her patient get back to one of his life's passions: soccer. 

A 2022 graduate of Plano East Senior High School, Frias had been an active goalie in Plano ISD's soccer teams since he was 10 or 11. Now 17, Frias still endeavors to keep playing the sport despite the impediment. 

“He has taken life by its horns, and he always talks about looking forward to not looking back,” Garza said. 

Garrett Gravley is the reporter for the Plano Star Courier, Allen American, Little Elm Journal and The Colony Courier-Leader. Email him at ggravley@starlocalmedia.com with story suggestions.

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