Burnt in a bushfire, healed by love

Published Saturday, Aug 2 2014, 18:00 BST  |  By  |  Add comment
Turia Pitt, 25, knew she was a lucky girl – great job, great boyfriend, great life. Then she suffered horrific burns. But now Turia feels luckier than ever...

"Blinking, I saw the fluorescent lights and heard the beeping machines. As I regained consciousness, I realised I was in hospital. But I couldn't move or speak.

As he saw me wake, my boyfriend of two years Michael Hoskin, 29, touched my hand. But when he saw my distraught expression, his face dropped.

Turia Pitt, Burnt in a bushfire, healed by love

© Reader's own

Turia feels lucky to have Michael

'What's wrong?' he asked, uncertainly. 'Aren't you happy to be alive?' My injuries were so bad, I couldn't answer. But if I'd been able to, I'd have said no.

As I closed my eyes, my mind was filled with the heat and noise of the fire that had left me like this. It was September 2011 and I was competing in a 100km ultra-marathon in the Australian outback.

Only a week before, I'd graduated with a double honours degree in mining engineering and science. I'd just secured a great job at a diamond mine and Michael and I had got our own place. We shared a passion for swimming and surfing and together life was perfect.

I was 25km in when I spotted the flames. I used to volunteer as a paramedic, and I'd seen bushfires before, so at first I didn't panic. But this fire was angry, crackling and hissing loud as a thunderstorm.

I raced up a steep cliff with the other runners. I knew being above a fire is the hottest place possible. But we had no choice – there was nowhere else to go.

We made it to a ledge but the thick smoke made it impossible to breathe. I tried to scramble higher. That's when the flames got me.

My arms were on fire as I fell to the ground. Within seconds, the fire passed over. Later I found out how bad my injuries were. The skin on my face, fingers, neck, arms, legs and chest was gone.

Turia Pitt, Burnt in a bushfire, healed by love

© Reader's own

Turia and Michael before she was injured

I lay still as other runners offered me water and painkillers, while one, who'd escaped injury, ran to get help. It took four hours to be rescued but the pain was excruciating and I had no concept of time.

When paramedics arrived, I spotted one from my days as a volunteer but she looked at me blankly. "It's me, Turia," I said, wondering why she hadn't acknowledged me. When she burst into tears, I realised it was because I was unrecognisable.

I had burns to 64 per cent of my body and my face swelled to twice the size.

I didn't have enough skin left for grafts, so some had to be imported from the States. The fingers on my right hand and two from my left were amputated. Doctors put me in a coma in an effort to save my life.

When I woke a month later, my skin felt stiff and I could barely bend my arms. Michael and my mum, Celestine, 45, were my rocks. They spent all day talking to me and Michael left his job to take care of me.

But despite their support, I felt frustrated and angry. I hated that I couldn't speak and my dressings had to be changed daily, an agonising process that took hours.

One afternoon, as two physiotherapists helped me up a tiny step, Michael was cheering like I'd completed a triathlon. I was so embarrassed, I shouted at him. But at 7am the next day, he was back, his support unwavering. If he believed in me,
I realised I had to believe in myself too.

Slowly, I began to rehabilitate, with speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Although every day felt like I was wading through mud, I gradually improved.

Turia Pitt, Burnt in a bushfire, healed by love

© Reader's own

Turia had to wear a mask 23 hours a day

'I love your beautiful eyes,' Michael would tell me. But I still had no idea what I looked like. Mum didn't want me to see my reflection at first and I'm glad, as I needed to build my strength up first.

When I finally saw my new reflection, I couldn't help but cry. I didn't want to care about my looks, but the new me was going to take some adjusting to. I had to wear a mask 23 hours a day for two years to smooth the facial scarring, as well as a full body compression suit over my dressings to help with healing. I've had 28 operations and still need more.

There were days I didn't know if I could still be Turia. Michael and I always loved exercise and adventure, I couldn't see us being the same couple any more. But Michael still saw me.

After six months, I was allowed home. Michael had learnt how to change my dressings, feed me and when I had to take each of my many pills.

As I recovered, I discovered I could still do lots of things. In 2012, I started a masters in mining engineering. I now give motivational talks in schools and have even got my fitness back. This year, I walked the Great Wall of China to raise money for the Australian charity Interplast, which provides free reconstructive surgery for those who can't afford it.

People often ask if I'd change things. But what is the point in dwelling on that?

Instead, I count myself lucky. Lucky I survived, lucky I got the medical care I did and lucky to have Michael. I wish I could go back to that day when Michael asked me if I was glad to be alive and I wanted to say no. I'd tell myself my life wasn't over. It wasn't even just going to be bearable. Life was going to be amazing again."

By Kim Willis

Got an iPad or iPhone? Reveal Mag is specially designed to fit!