By Liana Jacob
THIS SELFLESS British burns survivor who was engulfed in flames from-head-to toe after she pushed her friend out of the fire endured such fierce heat that her metal braces melted in her mouth and was called Freddy Kruger by cruel bullies but credits her friend Katie Piper for overcoming PTSD.
IT reference specialist, Hayley Doyle (32), from Rochdale, UK, was just 14-years-old when she was set alight in a barn holding 90-tonnes of straw. A young boy who she knew at the time, who she later learned had a fascination with fire, accidentally set the barn ablaze while she was inside with three friends. Hayley knew that something serious had happened as someone was shouting ‘fire’. Two of Hayley’s friends managed to escape before the barn went up in flames.
Hayley, and her remaining friend had gone through the tunnels of hay before the barn whole barn was set ablaze. Hayley began moving the burning bales of straw out of the way. As she left the tunnel, she pushed her friend out, but received a backlash from the fire, and she was sucked backwards inside the burning barn.
Hayley crawled through 33-feet of the straw tunnel before jumping 49-feet from the top of the stacked straw and crawling out while her body was on fire from head-to-toe.
Due to the amount of smoke inhaled in her lungs, she was fading fast before a firefighter covered her with his jacket and she was taken to the hospital where she underwent over 100 surgeries, including skin grafts and laser surgery over the next 15-years.
Following her ordeal, she developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
“To this day we don’t know how I got through it. I had to crawl ten meters and drop fifteen meters – it was a massive inferno spreading and I could hear people telling me to jump. I just jumped, ran out and everything was completely ablaze.
“I was completely on fire from head to toe, somebody grabbed hold of me and threw me in the horse water trough.
“I thought it was straw; but it was my skin coming off like string in my hands. I kept going on about my face and a woman said, ‘no your face is fine’ and she took me to her car – it was awful.
“Luckily I couldn’t see very much because my face was swelling so much that my eyes were basically closed; she opened the mirror and showed me my face.
“I think people were just in a state of panic. I had inhaled so much smoke; because you swell on the outside, you close off from the inside, so it was a real emergency to get me to the hospital and on a ventilator before my airways completely closed up.
“A firefighter came running up to me, took his jacket off and he wrapped it around me. He put this gel mask around my face and my hands in bags of gel that I had to wrap around them. He just kept telling everybody to keep calm and kept talking to me as I was going in and out of consciousness.
“I had tight clothing on and that’s what saved the rest of my body from being severely burnt. The only thing that was really burnt were my hands, my face, my neck and around my waist where the rubber band had stuck to my skin.
“I also had braces on and they melted in my mouth. My mum also bought me a necklace to protect me and that was embedded in my neck, which is why I’ve got a big scar around my neck.
“I was in hospital initially for around five or six months to begin with, and collectively had over one-hundred operations altogether.
“Doctors advised my mum and dad that there is a chance that they would have to amputate my hands. I’m still recovering now I suppose because I’m still having laser surgery to help with the mobility and appearance of my scars.
“When you are breathing in a fire, every second that you breathe it burns and I was trying to shout but the flames burned my inside.
“You know the sound from a helium balloon? The sound of my voice – that’s what it was like. My voice was so damaged.
“I used to do a lot of singing so after I came out of the hospital my mum and dad paid for me to see a vocal coach and she brought my voice back. I’m singing again as a hobby.”
She said the hardest part about recovery was accepting that it was happening, and growing up with the consequences, as she says that she has received cruel comments about her burns.
“I remember the first time I saw my face, what you don’t realise is when you’re in hospital that’s like your safe haven; when you get out of hospital with your burns, that’s when the recovery starts,” Hayley said.
“Nobody can prepare you for that. At that time when I was young there wasn’t anybody out there that I could relate to me and that’s what was missing for me.
“The doctors and nurses were incredible – I will always be grateful for what they’ve done for me because the work they’ve done from then to now is amazing.
“I used to have to wash my hands and wear pressure garments and a facemask for twenty-three-and-a-half-hours a day.
“Obviously I did get a lot of comments. People said to me, ‘you look like you’ve got melted chewing gum on your face’, ‘you look like Freddie Kruger’.”
She credits acid attack survivor and advocate, Katie Piper, for her surge in confidence ever since she met her for the first time. They have known each other for a few years now.
Her confidence came along with her PTSD recovery. Someone with PTSD often relives the event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
“The incident has changed my life massively, I mean my confidence was the biggest change. I had severe PTSD. I was seeing a psychologist regularly,” Hayley said.
“I wouldn’t say it was just one day when my confidence came; it was a long process. I was in denial for many years thinking I was going to wake up one day and my scars would disappear.
“I can’t change what happened to me, so I have one or two ways it could go; I could either not accept it even though it will still not change or see the good in a bad situation and make the most of it. I’m so proud of who I am and will never be ashamed – my scars make me unique.
“Before I met Katie Piper, I lacked in self-confidence and her, her team and her foundation are what gave me a big leap up.
“She’s amazing and so inspiring. She’s got such a positive outlook on life. You look up to somebody like that and I never really met someone that had gone through a similar experience to me before so being able to relate to someone like her really helped regain my confidence.
“I wish the ‘now me’ could have spoken to me then you know? At the end of the day, if somebody gave me a time machine and said that you could turn back time and live your life without being burned, I wouldn’t.
“By always having a positive attitude, it has made the recovery process so much easier. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a long, long journey, however, by being positive, not hiding away from it and following my dreams I’m always going to be the winner.
“It completely defines who I am as a person, and I have developed strength I never knew I had. I’m now supporting people who have been burnt.”
For more information visit: https://www.instagram.com/hayleyrochelle/