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A Des Moines man nearly killed by illegal fireworks is on a mission to make sure others don t make the same bad decision.

John Watts, 31, learned the hard way. A $10 firework has cost him nearly $500,000 in medical treatment.

When I hear some (fireworks), it gets my heart racing. It still gets me scared, said Watts.

On New Year s Eve, Watts and his friends were shooting off illegal fireworks. He lit a mortar and stepped away when it suddenly exploded.

I don t remember much, he said.

He woke up in the hospital days later in critical condition, almost unrecognizable. The blast exploded his ear drums, detached his right eye and blew a hole in the side of his cheek. He also lost three fingers and part of a thumb.

It s tough. It s the toughest thing in the world. 30 years of having something, it goes away, said Watts.

After 21 reconstructive surgeries, Watts still feels sharp shooting pains and numbness.

I m forever in pain, he said.

Watts went door-to-door in his neighborhood, teaching others about his mistake. He hopes his story can spare others.

If I could have one (person) think twice when I didn t do it, I would be forever grateful, said Watts.

Greg Zamora and his family live down the street. He s thankful for the reminder.

If that happened to a grown guy, what would you expect with a little kid? said Zamora.

You have to think about what really can happen and not what makes you look cool, said Karen Zamora, Greg s 12-year-old daughter.

Education has become therapy for Watts. He hopes to set an example for strangers and his 6-year-old son.

I don t want to touch one, light one or be part of one again, he said.

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