Here, Ocean, 17, tells the story in her own words.
G￼etting ready to go out with my friend, I had an uneasy feeling in my tummy. Something bad is going to happen, a voice nagged.
We were only heading down the road to hang out at a mate’s farm, but my intuition had been right before. It had told me not to get into a car, so I listened, and later they crashed. ‘We’ll have a good time once we’re there,’ my friend said, dragging me along. When we arrived, the sun was setting and a few others had a camp fire going. They were all drinking, but at 14 I didn’t want to join in, so I headed inside to watch TV by myself.
An hour later, I really wanted to go home. I’ll just slip off without saying goodbye, I thought, heading outside. As I did, I saw one of the boys putting something on the fire – gasoline!
Suddenly, there was a huge explosion and flames leapt onto my legs. ‘Drop and roll!’ my friend screamed, as the inferno engulfed me. But my brain was all muddled. Instead I ran towards the house in flames. I was a human fireball! There, I ripped off my pants and they used a hose to extinguish the flames. The pain was excruciating and my ankle boots were melting into my feet. ‘Get them off!’ I cried.
Afterwards, I was helped to the shower, but there was only hot water. So I lay on a table and they poured buckets of cold water over me. Looking down at my legs, I could see that my skin was red raw and yellow. In shock, I passed out.
When I woke up again, paramedics were injecting me with pain relief and swathing the burns in cling wrap. Then I was carried to a waiting helicopter. I knew something bad was going to happen, I kept thinking. At the hospital, my mum Natarsha burst into tears when she saw me.
She was by my side as I was flown to a specialist burns unit at Hutt Hospital. Skin grafts were taken from my bottom and thighs and put on my legs and feet. The drugs I had for the pain made me groggy and I couldn’t get up to shower, so Mum had to wash me. How is this my life now? I thought.
I was so angry. That boy’s split second of stupidity had changed me forever. I’d never wear a dress again. I’ll never marry, I thought. Who could love me like this? ‘If only I hadn’t gone,’ I sobbed to Mum. ‘You’re beautiful, Ocean,’ she kept telling me. ‘It will get better.’
At my lowest, I thought I would be better off dead. I suffered flashbacks, too. Mum was there every day and my sister Kayla, 20, took over in the evening. One time, I was jolted awake by a terrifying nightmare at the same time a nurse was checking my vitals.‘It’s okay,’ she soothed. ‘You’re safe.’
Sitting on my bed, she sang a lullaby until I’d calmed down and eventually I drifted back off to sleep. After a month, I started physio to get me walking again. So weak, I couldn’t hold myself up and I would collapse back in the wheelchair. ‘I can’t do it,’ I said, breaking down. ‘It hurts.’ ‘Yes you can,’ Mum urged. With her support and lots of focus, I was soon able to take a few steps with crutches. And after two months, I was allowed home.
Returning to school made me nervous. ‘I look so different,’ I said to Mum. Covering up in long trousers, I kept to myself. ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I told anyone who asked. Then one day, I received a letter from the Burns Support Group about their burns camp.
It was a chance to meet other survivors and have fun in an environment where I didn’t have to worry about my scars. I went along and listened as some of the kids bravely shared their stories.They’re just like me and they’ve come so far, I thought.
I tried to keep that in mind every time I had a skin graft. But it was hard. I couldn’t go to the beach or wear a bikini like other girls my age. I threw away all my shorts and dresses, too.
Then last May, I met my boyfriend, Tehorowai, through friends. ‘Your legs are beautiful,’ he told me. With his and Mum’s support, I started to think more positively. It could’ve been so much worse.
Two years on, I’ve had 16 surgeries. The skin on my feet is so thick I have to buy shoes a size bigger than before.
Recently, surgeons sliced between my toes to ease the tightness. ‘Maybe one day I’ll get to wear sandals again,’ I said to Mum, hopefully. I’m so lucky to be alive, I’m focusing on my future.
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