Virginia teen Alex Childress spent his Tuesday afternoon cutting down weeds.
He’s been working a landscaping job during the summer to save money before he leaves for Virginia Tech University in the fall, the 17-year-old wrote on GoFundMe.
He was ready to attend with the help of an Army ROTC scholarship.
But now, he’s unsure he’ll still be eligible for the scholarship come fall due to medical disqualification, after he accidentally chopped down a poisonous weed known as giant hogweed.
Childress told People that he chopped down the plant while working and it fell on his face. He then carried it away under his right arm.
Later that day, he got in the shower to clean off. That’s when he noticed his skin start “peeling.” The teen said:
“I thought I just had sunburn, so I didn’t really pay any attention. Then I got in the shower and I started rubbing my face. I thought it was just a little bit of skin at first, but then big chunks of my face were falling off.”
He quickly showed his mother, who is a nurse. She guessed that the cause might be giant hogwood and rushed him to the hospital. He was admitted with third degree burns on his face and arm.
The teen said that making sure all traces of the plant’s poisonous sap off his skin was the worst part:
“[Doctors] had me stand in the shower for an hour and a half, scrubbing my body with soap to bring the PH level down. I had hot water running over open wounds, that was probably the worst part. That or the burn treatment where they scraped off the dead skin.”
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, giant hogweed can grow up to 14 feet tall and is identified by it’s broad leaves and white flowers. The dangerous plants are primarily located on the east coast.
It’s the plant’s sap that’s poisonous. And when combined with water or sunlight, the poison can cause burns and even blindness.
Childress says he won’t be able to spend time in the sun again for months, and may be sensitive to it for years. That could mean he’s unable to fulfill the duties of his scholarship. He said:
“I worked hard to get the scholarship. When my face heals, I have to go through a whole medical waiver process to make sure they won’t pull my scholarship. It’s a possibility I won’t be able to [attend in the fall], so that’s been a real struggle for my family.”
The teen says he hopes his story helps warn others about the dangerous plant. He’s started a GoFundMe to raise money for medical bills.