Survival

Camping horror – I woke up with my face on fire

Inspiring Halie shares her story

A night out in the bush ended in tragedy for Halie.

Here, Halie Tennant, 29, from Hotspur, Victoria, shares the story in her own words.

Leaning back into my camping chair, I sipped my drink.

The campfire was gently flickering in front of me and the stars were glistening in the sky.

‘Bush therapy is just what I needed,’ I smiled to my mate, Kenzie.

Earlier this year, I’d married my partner, Mathew.

We were over the moon when I’d fallen pregnant a few months later, but, devastatingly, I’d suffered a miscarriage.

The grief had hit me hard, so I decided to go camping for the night as an escape.

Talking it through with Kenzie in the quiet hum of nature, I started to unwind.

But the next thing I knew, I was waking with a start. Then I realised my face was tightly bound in bandages.

Peering around slowly, I wondered where I was.

It looks like a hospital? I thought, confused.

Just then, my mum, Karren, walked in.

‘You’re awake!’ she cried. ‘I’m so happy you’re alive.’

‘What do you mean?’ I exclaimed.

Halie Tennant and Matthew on wedding day
Matthew and me on our wedding day (Credit: Kayla Northcott)

‘You got burnt in a campfire. You’ve been in a coma for the past eight days,’ Mum said gently.

Sitting beside me, Mum told me the full story.

Kenzie had slipped into her swag to stargaze.

I was still in my chair in front of the fire, which had burnt down to the coals.

Suddenly, Kenzie heard a weird noise.

Turning, she saw I was head first in the sizzling hot coals.

As Kenzie yanked me out, I’d mumbled, ‘What happened?’

‘You fell in the fire!’ Kenzie had said.

Somehow, my mind had gone to my first-aid training and I got Kenzie to splash my face with ice-cold water.

She then drove me home, which was just a kilometre away. There, I’d stripped off and stuck my face under the shower, while Kenzie woke Mathew and dialled Triple-0.

When paramedics arrived, I was injected with sedatives and put in a coma before being flown to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

As Mum recounted the tale, I could barely take in what I was hearing.

My face had burned off.

I had no recollection of the accident or how I’d fallen into the red-hot coals.

I reasoned I’d probably been drifting off to sleep in my chair when my head tipped forward onto them.

Doctors believe my pain receptors had burnt off so quickly that I didn’t even feel what was happening.

Six per cent of my body, including all of my face, had suffered third to fourth-degree burns.

I was wrapped in bandages from my head, right down to my ribcage.

Halie Tennant
The first photo I saw of myself

Shortly before the accident, I had shaved off my hair for charity, but now my eyebrows and most of my lashes had gone, too.

When I saw Mathew, I burst into tears.

‘It’s going to be okay,’ he said, hugging me.

I’d already undergone three operations – including one to remove my melted skin – but there was still a long way to go.

One procedure, called Biodegradable Temporising Matrix (BTM), involved placing a sponge-like sheet on my wounds. This creates a foundation for skin and encourages regrowth. I was told I was only the second person in the world to have it. Ten days after I woke up, nurses were changing my bandages when I asked them to take a photo.

I still hadn’t seen myself since the injuries. Looking at the picture, I saw that my face had melted and was completely black and blue from the BTM procedure.

But I didn’t feel shocked.

A few days later, I was with my psychologist when she got me to look at the photo again.

This time, it hit me and I broke down sobbing.

Hali Tennant in compression suit
Me in my compression suit

‘I’m going to say this once,’ I said to Mathew, ‘but if this is too much, you can leave.’

‘No way, I love you,’ he insisted.

It was reassuring, but I still struggled to deal with how I looked. My face was covered in burns and scars – my identity had gone.

Despite it all, I knew I was very lucky to be alive.

When Kenzie came to visit, I broke down.

‘You’re my hero,’ I said.

After two months of surgery and recovery, I was discharged.

But just a week later, I was back in hospital when my eyelids would only close half way.

Halie Tennant in hospital
Making the best of things in hospital

Doctors also assessed my mouth as I couldn’t open it wide enough to eat food.

So I spent another two weeks in hospital, where they cut my lips and reattached them to make my mouth bigger.

Now back home, there’s a long journey ahead. I have to wear a compression suit all day, while at night I sleep in a plastic head mask and neck brace.

Walking around the shops in the compression suit can be daunting and I’ll sometimes get funny looks.

 

Halie and Matthew
Heading home with Matthew

‘You look like a zombie,’ one man commented.

But I refuse to let any negativity get me down. And I plan to go back to my job as a kindergarten teacher.

If life has taught me anything this year, it’s to always look for the silver lining, no matter how small it may be.

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