Transforming tragedy PLUS ‘I wear my scars like diamonds’
AFTER being ‘grossly disfigured’ in a crash, this woman – who made a phenomenal recovery – shows off her scars.
IN 1988, after her seventh birthday, Heather Meadows, now 37, was riding back home on a bike with her brother, Jon, who was swerving to the left then to the right. The dust from the road stung their eyes. Jon couldn’t see and out of an effort to avoid the dust he swerved to the left, entering the opposite lane where a truck struck them. The crash resulted in the truck bursting into flames that engulfed Heather and Jon.
Heather remembers someone grabbing her and dragging her from the wreckage where she was taken to a nearby burn unit. Doctors told her distraught parents that there was a very high chance she would die.
Heather’s fight to survive paid off, though, and she woke up in hospital where she learnt that she had burnt 87 percent of her body. Tragedy overcame her when she was told that her brother, Jon, had died in the accident at just nine years old.
“Jon and I pulled out behind a truck. It was a country dirt road. We didn’t have on goggles. Instead, we had an urgency to get home,” Heather says. “We didn’t stop. We didn’t pull over and wait for the dust to settle. Instead we continued riding behind the truck, making progress on the journey home, but unable to see and know our surroundings. Jon kept swerving to the left and right, left and right. The dust stung his eyes; I knew this because it was stinging mine. I hunched behind him trying to shield my eyes from the cloud of dust enveloping us. Suddenly, on Jon’s last swerve to the left, we entered the opposite lane and collided head-on with a truck. The gas cap came off the motorcycle and a massive fire began burning.”
Heather continues, “I was in the flames. No longer did my eyes burn from a cloud of dust but beheld the blurriness from the fire. My face felt so very hot.
Someone grabbed me under my arms and pulled me, dragging me away from the fire. I was transported by a helicopter to the local burns centre where it was determined that my aorta had been completely transected from the force of the impact.
I went in for open heart surgery, leading to my journey of being a burn survivor. My parents were
[told there was a huge chance] that
I would die. Nevertheless, they held out hope, meaning my greatest, most heart-wrenching challenge to keep living was before me. I was diagnosed with an 87 percent third-degree burn injury. At seven years old I felt my worth, value and beauty had been lost on that dirt road.”
Heather adds, “But living with what doctors labelled as a ‘grossly disfiguring injury’ was nothing in comparison to learning that my big brother Jon had died in the accident. We did everything together. I knew no memory apart from him, and suddenly I was faced with his absence. Forever. Navigating through grief was an unknown process to me. It was overwhelming;
I had no coping skills to face it. So, like many do, I buried the grief and worked to ‘get better’ as everyone around me challenged me to do.”
Heather was kept in hospital for three months where
she underwent numerous surgeries to recover from her burns, including open-heart surgery and skin grafts, and was told she may never walk again. Despite this, she proved doctors wrong; she is now married to her husband, Brandon, and they have four children.
“Encountering the reactions from strangers and peers after I was injured was just the beginning of learning how to live while being noticed,” says Heather, who adds, “In a crowd of people, only those who stand out differently from the norm are noticed. I knew how different I was as people began staring. I was a little girl who grew to handle the awkwardness of stares, still 30 years later encountering the same experiences in the most random, day-to-day parts of living. It’s not something anyone is ever completely okay with. But it’s something that makes a burn survivor a survivor and not a ‘victim’. I’m not a victim of the reactions and bewilderment of strangers. I’m a survivor in the face of it.”
Heather adds, “I had to redefine myself. I had to redefine beauty. It was the longest road and most painful process, but like most challenges that are hard and hurtful, it produced the greatest understanding of who I am and how I can
[handle] this life I was left to live.”
Heather explains, “Patients don’t travel a road to recovery alone; I had a team of health care professionals who did more than provide medical treatment, they became a family to me. My mom and dad were committed and persistent to see me not just live, but to have the highest quality of life, pushing me even in the midst of excruciating pain.”
Heather, who met her husband in high school says, “I was a very unassuming young lady, never imagining a teenage boy sighting beauty and value in me. This became the details of what contributed to a special friendship before a romantic one. My husband and I got married at 18 years old in June 1999. Through the years he has proven that the depth of beauty in the heart and soul can shine and captivate the most genuine love.”
Heather and her family arranged to have family photos taken while preparing for holiday in Hawaii in Autumn of 2016. “People stare; no matter how many years have passed since the accident, people stare, and I can see the what-happened-to-her look on their faces,” she says. “It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward. So never in a million years did I figure I’d take photos in a bikini and share my scars for all of social media to see. But while life after a burn injury will never be the same, life can still be good. These bodies are merely shells. The value, hope, happiness, and optimism that is contained within them have far greater influence on the lives we live than the bodies which carry us through the journey.”
Heather with her brother Jon After the accident
Heather showing off her scars
Get Heather’s book, entitled Transforming Tragedy, on Amazon.com