Buddy Valastro/Instagram Buddy Valastro
Buddy Valastro almost missed out on his season three win of Buddy vs. Duff.
After crushing his hand in a gruesome accident at his home bowling alley, the Cake Boss star had five reconstructive hand surgeries — and the last one he underwent was only a month before filming started for season three.
"Before [the surgery], I really couldn't do nothing," he tells PEOPLE. "I couldn't do cakes. I really couldn't squeeze a bag. My fingers were so stiff, I couldn't even bend them."
Luckily, that most recent surgery was a "game-changer" and Valastro was able to move his hand more easily and even make a fist.
"It was scary because I didn't know if I was going to even be able to compete," says Valastro, who recently partnered up with Kinetic Sand on a new video. "Yeah, I could have used my brain to help develop the cakes or ideas or did things. But thank God we were able to do it, and it was awesome."
For Valastro, being crowned the champion of the Food Network show wasn't a top priority.
"Honestly that season wasn't about winning or losing. The fact that I was able to go back and do my craft was the win," he admits. "I didn't really care about winning…or beating Duff. I really wanted to say, 'Hey, look, I could still do this, and do it at this level.' "
And he did just that. Valastro's skill paired with his vision didn't falter — his life-size dragon cake is what ultimately beat Duff Goldman in the finale.
While making "some of the craziest cakes" is a huge accomplishment for the master baker, there was one culinary task he really wanted to tackle to prove he had his strength back: opening a lobster tail.
"It's like a hand motion where you have to really use your fingers to open it," he said of the very hands-on action.
Valastro, who tells PEOPLE he has 90% of his strength back, says he has one more surgery later this year to help correct his grip and straighten out his fingers.
The dad of four credits his recovery to his family. Not only does he gush about how his wife constantly helped him, but he also acknowledges his kids — Sofia, 19, Buddy Jr., 17, Marco, 15 and Carlo, 11.
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"Every night my kids would put me in bed," he recalls. "Every night my son, Marco, was like, 'Dad, I'm going to tuck you in.' And I would be going to bed and he would put all the pillows under me and stuff."
Valastro, who is nearly completely recovered, made it through the difficult times with gratitude for his loved ones.
"It was one of those things where it shows you how important family is," he says. "We take for granted the little things like you opening the door or just doing something with your hand. It makes you appreciate the little things so much."