Teen party terror: My whole body was on fire

A night out turned into the worst night of her life.

When Ocean’s intuition told her not to go out, she wished she’d listened…

Here, Ocean, 17, tells the story in her own words.

Getting 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.

Me and my mum Natarsha
Me and my mum Natarsha

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.’

burns 1
My feet were severely burned
My feet were severely burned
Skin grafts were taken from my thighs…

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. 

I've now had 16 surgeries
I’ve now had 16 surgeries

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. 

Me with my boyfriend Tehorowai
Me with my boyfriend Tehorowai

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.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!

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