Survival

Mum’s Horror: I Fell Into Our BBQ!

Mum Regina didn’t let a freak accident extinguish her zest for life
  • Regina Morelli Benford, 49, endured a freak accident at home
  • She had third degree burns above her eye and on her nose, second degree burns on her cheek and chin, and first degree burns above her lip
  • After some time, her scars had closed and she’d developed a skincare routine to help minimise the scarring

Here Regina tells her story in her own words.

Let’s have burgers for dinner,’ my son Ian, then 22, said after his brother, Alexander, 16, walked in the door from school.

‘I can cook them over the firepit,’ he added.

It was a warm Friday in 2017, and the boys and my husband Sheldon, who we call Shep, then 48, and I loved to spend time out on our deck in the evenings looking at the luminous night sky. Especially when our daughter, Rosie, 20, was home from uni and our other son, Nathan, also 20, was visiting. They weren’t here this night, but we missed them!

A carer, I was spending my free time baking pies and straining cider made from apples we grew on our property.

Shep, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, worked in town, and was also a volunteer firefighter.

Our door was always open and we offered a warm welcome to anyone who dropped by.

Sometimes instead of using the barbie grill, we’d place a large, rectangular grate over our round firepit on the deck, and cook up a storm.

‘Sure, that’s fine,’ I told Ian.

While the sun was still out, Ian and Shep prepared the makeshift barbie while Alexander was in his room.

Regina Morelli Benford family
Rosie, Dylan, me, Shep, Ian and Alexander (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I was being cooked alive.’

Very quickly, the fire grew in height. The flames licked aggressively as the grate’s centre glowed orange.

Ian popped inside to do something, and that’s when Shep asked for my assistance. After his recent op, he wasn’t supposed to lift anything.

‘Could you help me take the grate off the pit?’ he asked. The flames were too big and it was starting to warp in the middle. But the edges were cool enough to hold without gloves.

‘Let’s just lift it off and place it down straight away,’ Shep said.

So I picked it up with him holding the other end.

If I put it down on the deck, it might burn the wood, I thought, so I took a step to put it down away from the deck, despite Shep telling me not to.

But it was awkward to hold, as I tried to avoid getting near the hot centre.

Suddenly, I lost my footing and fell, head first, into the centre of the red-hot grate, as it landed on the deck. My glasses crushed into my face, melting instantly.

I was being cooked alive.

Leaping into action, my husband quickly pulled me off the grate.

‘Hello!’ I heard a voice call.

It was my friend Jessica, dropping by.

Hearing Ian’s gasps and seeing my head lying on Shep’s lap, she realised there’d been a terrible accident.

‘Come, quick!’ Shep yelled out to Jessica.

While Ian called emergency services, Shep rushed to the bathroom to wet a bundle of towels, then raced back to wrap my face, with Jessica’s help.

Is this seriously happening? I thought, then I blacked out.

Coming to, I saw pure panic painted on their faces.

‘I want to see my face!’ I demanded, distraught, but feeling no pain.

Scrubbing my skin was so painful
Scrubbing my skin was so painful (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I felt like I’d pass out from the pain.’

They helped me to the bathroom mirror, and I removed the wet rags.

Screaming bloody murder, I saw the sizzling grate had burned a print right across my face.

Alexander was close by in the next room, but too nervous to see what had happened.

Soon, a flurry of fire trucks and ambos arrived.

‘Don’t look at me!’ I cried, covering my face from our dear neighbours who’d rushed over.

Ian joined me in the ambulance, while Jessica drove Shep in her car.

‘It’s all my fault for wanting to use the grate tonight,’ Ian stressed.

‘Don’t blame yourself, my love,’ I reassured him.

Arriving at the nearest hospital, a chest X-ray showed I was free of smoke inhalation and broken bones.

Then I was taken to a burns centre.

Arriving with Ian – Shep and Jessica close behind – my lovely Rosie and her boyfriend Dylan were already there.

‘I called them,’ Ian said.

Nathan was away for work, otherwise he’d have been there in a flash too.

After a night on an IV drip, a specialist assessed me. I had third degree burns above my right eye and on my nose, second degree burns on my right cheek and chin, and first degree burns above my lip.

‘You’re lucky you were wearing your glasses,’ he revealed. ‘If you hadn’t, you would’ve lost your eye.’

I had to scrub my charred skin with harsh soap to keep it clean, and felt like I’d pass out from the pain.

Once the docs were sure I could do it myself, I was given the okay to go home, with instructions to clean the burns four times a day.

Regina Morelli Benford
My burns during the recovery process (Credit: Supplied.)

Lying in bed with my eyes swollen shut, I’d have to prise them open to cleanse my wounds as blood seeped down my face.

This is like a horror movie, I thought.

It was grim, but my family were there for me.

Three weeks after the accident, I went shopping with Shep. Keeping my face down, I could still feel people’s stares.

Although I felt self-conscious, I decided after that not to hide anymore.

I’ll hold my head high, I thought.

By that Christmas, my scars had closed and I’d developed a skincare routine, using sunscreen, vitamin ointments and moisturisers to help minimise the scarring.

Regina Morelli Benford
I’m grateful for every day (Credit: Supplied.)

In October 2019, Rosie married Dylan a day after my two-year ‘burnaversary’.

Nathan married his partner Shelby a year later, and life has been looking up.

Every day I feel grateful that I survived falling into our barbecue.

I’ve learned life goes on after a tragedy, and my burns will never define me.

There’s nothing shameful about being a survivor.

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