Tony Yarijanian: Through the Fire
By Randy Rudder
The 700 Club
Tony Yarijanian is an Armenian immigrant who settled in the Los Angeles area, where he met and married Ani. In 2004, the couple owned several businesses, including a tanning and nail salon. Each Sunday, Tony and his son Tobel cleaned the salon together, but that morning, Tobel had a fever and stayed home. When Tony got to the salon, he noticed something strange.
“As I opened the door to the salon, I noticed that everywhere it was just wet,” Tony tells The 700 Club. “I suspected that it might be a water leak, but the stench of that room was just unbearable.”
Overnight, a faulty valve on a gas-powered dryer had caused the room to fill with natural gas. Tony decided to start a load of clothes before he looked for the source of the leak.
“So I pulled my t-shirt over my nose and took the towels to the very end of the salon where the dyer was.”
The last thing Tony remembers is pressing the start button on the dryer.
“As I pushed the button, there was this massive explosion. I remember I was yelling and screaming, and because of the massiveness of the fire, I could not see where I was going. It seemed like a voice was telling me, ‘Go this direction, go this direction.’”
Tony made it as far as the street. Rick Whitlow, Associate Pastor of Crescenta Valley Community Church, saw him lying there.
“I called 911 to tell them there was a fire at a strip mall,” Whitlow says, “but as I arrived I was surprised to see a man lying in the gutter in front of a truck, and he was still smoldering.”
Whitlow stayed with Tony and prayed until the ambulance arrived. Tony was taken to the Grossman Burn Center. Meanwhile, Ani was wondering where her husband was. When the burn center staff finally identified Tony, they called Ani, who rushed to the hospital.
“As I was walking toward the room, I smelled smoke, charcoal,” Ani recalls. “It was like somebody had barbecued in there. He had no hair. I don’t even know how to describe his eyes. The very first thing I said was, ‘That’s not Tony.’ And she said, ‘Yes, that is Tony.’”
Tony sustained third-degree burns on 90 percent of his body. Co-Director Dr. Peter Grossman says, “He was burned on his entire face, his hands, his arms, his legs, a great deal of his trunk. He was burned indoors, so there was an element of smoke inhalation. He had some damage to his lungs. That really made his chances of survival very, very slim.”
“Dr. Grossman said, ‘It looks worse than the report. The chance for him to survive is less than one percent,’” says Ani.
When the doctors told her to make funeral arrangements, she felt a strange presence come over her.
She continues, “Right at the end of their report, I felt this fog coming down on me. It was so calming. I felt so calm and relaxed. There was this voice that said, ‘Tony will be okay.’ I looked at them and said, ‘Tony will be okay. He’s going to walk out of this hospital. They both looked at me like, ‘She is in denial.’”
For the next several months, Ani rarely left her husband’s side.
“The whole time I had faith. Every time I was away from his room or in his room, I could picture Jesus right over his head. All I was doing was just reading the Bible, day in and day out. I wouldn’t allow anybody to come to his room—no visitors—because I did not want anybody to cry in his room. I never cried in his room. It was all encouraging words: ‘You’re going to make it. You look good.’ I would pray with him every day.”
Tony was in a coma at the burn center for several months.
“The next thing I remember was apparently several months later when I opened my eyes,” he says. “Ani was standing right above me with this beautiful face and a beautiful smile. I had no idea where I was at the time. I asked her, ‘What is going on? Where am I?’ And she said, ‘Well, you had a little accident.' I said, ‘How bad is it?’ She said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You are here with us, and that’s what really matters.”
Members of Rick’s church began a prayer vigil for Tony and his family after the accident. One of the members, Mike Martin, visited Tony every day for several months.
“I could not wait for him to come and pray with me,” Tony says. “It was just this awesome feeling.”
Although Tony had been a sporadic church-goer before the fire, he realized he had never had a personal relationship with Jesus.
“One time, he said, ‘Do you want to declare Jesus as Christ as your Lord and Savior?' I said, ‘I declare Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.’ Things started changing from that moment on.”
Tony underwent over 40 surgeries on his face and body. He is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person with the greatest percentage of third-degree burns to survive. He is convinced if it had not been for the incredibly skilled hands of his surgeons, the prayers of a caring group of believers, and the love of his family, he would not have lived.
“One time I was sitting on the bed, looking at some older pictures of mine, and I started getting really upset and started crying," Tony says. "Tobel came, sat next to me, literally took the pictures from my hand and threw them on the floor. He said, ‘That’s not important. What’s important is that you are here. And I have a dad.’"
“There are these intangible things that occur in medicine that we would love to be able to explain, but as of yet, can’t," says Dr. Grossman. "The faith that both of them had that they could survive, in my non-medical point of view, I think had a big part in it.”
The Yarijanians want to use their experience to bless others and to share the gospel.
“We try to share our stories to help other survivors," Tony says. "We do everything and anything we can within our powers to motivate, encourage, and let people understand that there is a God, He’s powerful, and when you declare Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it can really turn things around.”
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