‘Walking Man’ now listed in fair condition after suffering severe burns in attack last month

The director of Loyola Medicine’s Burn Center said it’s a positive sign that Kromelis is improving, but patients with his injuries face a long road of recovery and could be in the hospital several more months.

SHARE ‘Walking Man’ now listed in fair condition after suffering severe burns in attack last month
Joseph Kromelis, known as the “Walking Man,” in the Loop in 2011.

Joseph Kromelis, known as the “Walking Man,” in the Loop in 2011.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Joseph Kromelis — the famed “Walking Man” of downtown Chicago — continues to improve but has a long road to recovery after suffering life-threatening injuries last month when he was severely burned while sleeping near Trump Tower.

Kromelis is now listed in fair condition after initially being admitted to Stroger Hospital in critical condition at the end of May, according to Cook County Health spokeswoman Alexandra Normington.

No other information on his recovery was released.

Kromelis suffered third-degree burns to more than half of his body when he was doused with gasoline and set on fire May 25. Doctors said at the time that he would be unable to recover from the injuries.

Director of Loyola Medicine’s Burn Center Dr. Joshua Carson, who is not involved in Kromelis’ care, said it’s a positive sign that Kromelis is improving, but he has a long road of recovery ahead given the severity of his injuries, and could be in the hospital several more months.

“When people survive these burn injuries, unlike a lot of other traumatic injuries, burn injuries take a distinctly long and arduous process to treat and recover from,” Carson said.

A third-degree injury burns all the way through the skin, meaning it may be unable to heal on its own. Even a small one can stay with you for a long time, Carson said.

“Burns that large are incredibly toxic to the body, so the thing about them is that the burn being there makes the patient sick, and then you have to remove them,” Carson added. “When you do that, you leave the patient without some critical organ function, and that makes a patient very vulnerable to infection and to other kinds of complications.”

Carson said treatment then becomes “a race” between being able to close a patient’s open wounds with skin grafts and their vulnerability to all the infections and complications out there.

“Replacing skin is a surgery in itself that is traumatic, so you are balancing the trauma of surgery against the trauma of having open wounds,” Carson said. “Until the vast majority of his wounds have been replaced, the game is not over.”

Then there is a long process of rehabilitation, Carson said. Additional reconstructive surgeries are often necessary.

“I tell all of my patients and their families when they have these severe injuries — this is a marathon, and this is going to be a major change to your life that is going to go on for a long time to get you back,” he said.

Joseph Guardia, 27, has been charged with attacking Kromelis. He has offered no motive to police other than he is an “angry person,” according to prosecutors.

Kromelis had been sleeping under blankets in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue when surveillance cameras captured Guardia walk up and stand over him silently for 16 seconds, prosecutors said.

The video allegedly shows Guardia pour gasoline over Kromelis’ uncovered head and ignite it.

Guardia left as Kromelis’ entire upper body was engulfed in flames, prosecutors said. Kromelis tried to put out the fire but finally slumped against a garage door. Two security guards from Trump Tower came to his aid before an ambulance arrived.

“We have to hope for the best for the man — he is on a very long path,” Carson said.

Kromelis is well known to people who frequent downtown Chicago, easily recognized by his tall frame, striking facial features, long flowing hair and bushy mustache.

Six years ago — on May 24, 2016 — he was brutally beaten by someone with a baseball bat in the 400 block of East Lower Wacker Drive. The two were struggling over the bat when police arrived.

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