'Just step up': Amputee chef got a 2nd chance at life after near-deadly accident

After being electrocuted, chef Eduardo Garcia had to relearn the cooking techniques he was once so familiar with.

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By Kerry Breen

After a gruesome accident, over a dozen surgeries and an amputation that removed his left hand, chef Eduardo Garcia is back in the kitchen.

Garcia, 38, was an up-and-coming yacht chef before his accident in 2011. While hiking, he saw what he believed to be a "dead bear cub in a large tin can," but when he prodded it with a hunting knife, 2,400 volts of power arched from the base of the can to his knife, and he was electrocuted.

"I remember the sensation of heat, I remember the ambient sounds of frequency being all-encompassing," he told TODAY. "My eyes opened. I remember seeing clouds and tree tops and I remember telling myself to get to my feet and stand up. I knew in that moment that I was dying, and I was walking to get help, and I was walking to save my life."

After a bizarre accident, chef Eduardo Garcia underwent 18 surgeries, including an amputation. TODAY

Garcia said that he was brought to the University of Utah's burn trauma center, where the surgeon on call said, chillingly, that he was a "bag of bones with a heartbeat."

But he managed to survive the accident, undergoing 18 surgeries in 48 days. One afternoon, doctors came by with more bad news: His left hand, which had been holding the hunting knife that had conducted the electricity, was infected and needed amputation. Just days later, the surgery was done, leaving Garcia to relearn the cooking techniques he was once so familiar with.

After multiple surgeries, doctors told Garcia that his left hand was infected and needed amputation.TODAY

"I had a job to do, and my job was to be an active participant in my own recovery," Garcia explained. "Relearning, it was everything ... I've had to learn to say I don't need to be a perfectionist in the kitchen."

"At one point, I was looking at holding a knife or trying to hold a piece of produce again. You've got a hook. How do you figure that out? And you've just got to step in, step up to the table, and just start participating, just say, 'All right, one at a time,' and it may be a failure or it may be a success — just step up."

After his left hand was amputated, Garcia had to relearn kitchen basics. TODAY

He told TODAY that cooking has been a "huge" part of his healing process, even as he had to relearn all of the basics. Now, he runs a food company called Montana Mex, which produces sauces, spices and oils to be used in cooking.

"Trying to pay attention and respect the recovery process, the emotional recovery process and also, professionally, just still be me, still be a chef and put myself into that. It's been a funky balance, and I'm working to find that balance, still."

"In that moment, I believe I was reborn," Garcia told TODAY.TODAY

Part of his recovery also included learning how to feel comfortable being outside again and returning to hobbies like hiking.

"The outdoors is kind of where I reset, and of course, as a chef, it's where I go to get a lot of what I eat," he said.

Now that he has recovered from the worst of the accident, Garcia said that he has been able to process his new outlook on life.

"I've thought about why and how, why me, and how I was spared, every day basically, and if I had a complete, clean takeaway, it would only be that in that moment, I believe I was reborn," he said. "When a baby comes into this world, it is kicking and screaming and shouting for this thing called life, so I guess in that moment of severe, borderline, life-or-death ... mortgage payments, career, unread emails, all those things disappeared."

On the Montana Mex website, Garcia describes himself as a "foodie, outdoorsman, athlete and motivational speaker." TODAY

Now, he tries to look ahead and consider what could be on the horizon both in his career and in his personal life. Earlier this year, he got married in what he called a "tremendous" moment.

"Looking ahead, knowing how finite life is, how quickly it can disappear, I feel beautifully split," he said. "I want to take the time to be present, but at the same time I can't help but dream about the future. Life is not meant to be walked solo, and I think I knew that before my injury, and yet I don't know if I was truly living it."

In 2020, he expects to celebrate the new year by focusing on "humility as a superpower."

"Saying, 'Okay, I'm going to humbly step into all of my dreams and all of my aspirations and invite others to participate.'"

Learn more about Eduardo Garcia's story and his incredible journey in his documentary,"Charged"