‘Mum didn’t realise the water was so hot, it was killing me’

Lucy Wilson
Lucy Wilson
  • Halloween and Bonfire Night have become synonymous with the dangers of burns. Catherine Scott meets one burns survivor who is raising awareness.
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The day before her first birthday, Lucy Wilson was severely burnt while in the bath.

Her mother had nipped out to answer the phone. Lucy knocked the tap on and because the thermostat in the house was broken, she received burns to more than a third of her body.

“It happened so quickly,” says Lucy, now 21 and studying at Sheffield Hallam University.

“People just don’t realise that scalds are the biggest cause of severe burns in children. Even my mum couldn’t understand that the water was so hot it was killing me. People just do not understand the danger of hot water.

“It was boiling hot water and the scientists said I got burnt in like 0.3 seconds. I was rushed to hospital and had to have lots of skin grafts.”

Lucy had to be sedated for about three months, but then she developed septicaemia and the doctors gave her three days to live.

“Luckily I don’t remember any of it,” she says.

“I don’t know but some miracle happened and I managed to pull through. But I had to have the tips of some of my fingers and toes amputated. My entire leg was badly burnt.”

Lucy spent the early years of her life trying to hide her scars. She was in hospital constantly and over the years has undergone more than 50 operations and skin grafts and will need them for the rest of her life.

Now she has come to terms with how she looks and is determined to raise awareness of the plight of burns victims and raise money for research into better treatment.

She has just been made the first female ambassador for the charity Restore Research which raises funds for research into burns.

“Things have come on a long way since I was first treated. I had old fashioned skin grafts where skin was taken from other parts of my body and put on to the burnt areas. Nowadays they can grow skin cells or use artificial skin.”

Lucy says it wasn’t just the physical side of her burns which affected her growing up. After starting primary school Lucy started to notice she was different to the other children and began to ask questions.

“I wanted to know why I was different. Why had this happened to me and I did get quite angry with the situation,” she says.

But it was during her time at secondary school when she really struggled to come to terms with her burns.

“You know people say kids can be cruel but they don’t know, they are not aware about it,” says Lucy, who is studying journalism at Sheffield Hallam University.

“At secondary school, I was up and down, I had some psychological therapy to help me cope with what had happened to me and the way I looked. It was always in the back of my mind that I was different and my scars weren’t going to go away. When you are a kid you just want to fit in. You don’t want to be different.

“As I got older, I noticed more negative stuff but now it’s little things like the shopkeeper not putting change in my hand because he thought he might catch something and once in the summer I had someone across the street from me shout, there’s something wrong with your leg.”

Lucy did get support from the National Children’s Burns Club at the age of 14, the annual summer camp for burn survivors.

“It really helped to talk to other people who were going through the same thing as me. To know that I wasn’t alone.”

But it wasn’t until she started university that Lucy really started to come to terms with her burns.

“I always used to worry about meeting new people, to have people stare at me and I was nervous about starting uni and sharing a house with people. But I do like to challenge myself and it made me realise that most adults just don’t care about stuff like that, they care about what is on the inside rather than the outside.”

Lucy took the brave decision to go public with pictures of her scars in a number of national newspapers.

“I received such a lot of support from that, not just from burns survivors but from people who feel they are different from other people. They said I had really given them hope, which is all I really want.

“I know what it’s like to be in those dark places, when you feel all alone and I hope by sharing my story, I can help other burns survivors realise they’re not alone,” she says,

Another thing which helped Lucy in her journey was a trip she made recently to Cambodia to work with children with disabilities and HIV.

“It was only a two-week placement but it made me realise how lucky we are here. Over there people with disabilities aren’t even recognised. Nine out of 10 babies born with disabilities are abandoned and the government does nothing to help them.”

Lucy is in her final year at university and as well as being an ambassador for Restore Research and the Healing Foundation she has just volunteered with the British
Red Cross. She also works with burns survivors at Sheffield Children’s Hospital as well as writing her own blog about her experiences.

“When I graduate I really want to do a job helping people overseas, probably with a NGO (non governmental organisation) working with refugees or other groups.”

Lucy also hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of hot water and encourage other burns survivors to feel comfortable in their skin.