At first, Casey didn’t feel anything, then the agony set in...
Here, Casey Barnes, 21, tells the story in her own words.
￼Bent over, I stamped my boots, flattening down the wool underneath the shearing machine.
It was humid and stuffy in the woolshed. But a born-and-bred country girl, I was in my element working on the farm, alongside my partner Boyd, 30, and dad, Dwayne, 47.
The electric motor which ran the old shearing machine was right above me, so I was careful to stay low. And as usual, I kept my long, curly hair scooped into a high bun.
After a few minutes I stood up. As I did, I felt a tugging sensation on my hair. What was that? I wondered, confused.
When the feeling stopped, something trickled into my eyes, clouding my vision. Blood!
That’s when I saw it – tangled up in the motor was my scalp, my brown hair still cascading from it.
Surprisingly, there’d been no pain. But as my hand went to my cheek, I felt a flap hanging off and cried out.
Looking over to see what the fuss was about, Dad started screaming hysterically. Then the agony began to rip through me. ‘It’s burning, my head is burning,’ I sobbed.
Everything was a blur as the owner of the woolshed scooped up my scalp and put it in a bag. Then a helicopter flew me to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window, I couldn’t even recognise the girl staring back at me. I must’ve been in shock, because somehow I stayed strangely calm.
‘My date of birth is March 25, 1997,’ I told the nurse at the hospital, as she held my scalp in her hand. The next thing I knew, I was being wheeled into the operating theatre. When I woke up from an induced coma three days later, my whole family was there by my bedside.
‘What happened to me?’ I asked my nan, Cheryl. All I could remember was that I’d been in an accident. ‘Oh Casey, your hair got caught on the machine,’ she told me in tears.
With my locks tangled in the spinning motor, my scalp had been ripped off from just above my eyelids, all the way down to my ears. It was a miracle it didn’t tear out my eyes.
Surgeons had battled for 20 hours to try and reattach my scalp. But having been separated for so long, it just wouldn’t take. Now I had to choose between artificial skin or a graft from my back to patch up my head.
Deciding on the artificial option, I was scheduled in for another surgery. Afterwards, a doctor handed me a mirror. Looking at my bald head, I was in complete shock.
The first thing I noticed was my missing eyebrows. ‘Oh my god, I look horrible,’ I said to my family. Then trying to be brave, I added, ‘Although I look way better now than when I first came in here!’
My lovely boyfriend Boyd was so determined I wouldn’t feel sad about my missing brows he promptly shaved his own off. ‘You look like Voldemort,’ I laughed at him, remembering the hairless character in the Harry Potter films.
Over time, two more layers of artificial skin were added, before grafts were taken from my thigh to cover my head.
After 104 days in hospital, I was finally discharged. Too embarrassed to go out in public, I stayed at home for weeks. When I did eventually pluck up the courage, I knew my pink head stuck out like a sore thumb. And people weren’t shy about asking questions. ‘What happened to your head?’ one woman blurted. Boyd, with his cheeky sense of humour, was quick to answer. ‘She was riding her bike and fell off,’ he said with a smirk. With his support, I’m trying to come to terms with what happened.
But just six months on, the memory is still raw. My family banned me from working in the woolshed and my sister Teagan, 26, quit her job as a shearer too. The equipment with the overhead motors is outdated and should be banned. New shearing stands have their own individual electric motor powering the electric shears.
The best ones have an automatic cut-out that stops the handpiece the instant it encounters any resistance.
Playing it over in my head, I think about what I could have done differently. If only I’d moved my head a few inches lower, or wore a hat… I could fold and crumble, but I am learning to take things as they come.
Now, I think about what I’m grateful for. I could have died or been left blind. Luckily, I have my amazing family by my side. The doctors and nurses were incredible too and I now count many of them as friends.
Once the scars on my scalp heal, I’ll pick out a beautiful wig to wear. I have a long way to go, but I’m lucky to be here.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life!
Have you heard our gripping new podcast How I Survived? Listen below to hear incredible mum Michelle Dowsett describe how she was scalped at 13 weeks pregnant!