By Josh Saunders
A mum who felt like a ‘monster’ after a house fire left her severely disfigured has claimed her burns are a blessing after 40 years hiding away.
Theresa Vandermeer-Diehl, 46, has proudly revealed her scars in a candid video after suffering third degree burns across 65% of her body in a house fire, in 1976, when she was four years old.
After seeing herself for the first time, she screamed in horror believing herself to be a ‘monster’ and later in public she was ostracised and treated like a ‘freak’.
Since then Theresa’s had over 100 surgeries to repair damage to her face and release tight scar tissue, which helped her start to embrace her differences.
For four-decades she struggled to come to terms with her appearance, suffering with depression and suicidal tendencies, but after sharing her experiences online she’s learned to accept herself.
Now she has penned an autobiography ‘Through the Fire’, which she hopes will inspire other burn survivors.
In a video released online she now considers her burns as ‘blessings’, believing that they help her every day to be humble, show empathy and have afforded her to overcome many problems.
Theresa, a Psychology graduate, said: “My face was covered in third degree burns and was unrecognisable, I just had tiny holes for eyes, and my legs and foot were second degree.
“When I looked at myself in the mirror I literally started screaming and yelling, I had to be sedated at that point.
“I wasn’t the same beautiful little girl I was before the accident, when I saw the person I had become I was scared and I felt like a monster, it was pretty horrific.
“From there, I have so many memories of kids asking why I looked like an ‘alien’, why I had to wear a mask and adults moving their children away from me so I didn’t scare them, I was treated like a freak.
“My whole life has been about learning to accept myself, from the fire to each surgery afterwards, it’s been a hard process but I am finally there.
“Now my scars remind me every single morning when I look at the mirror that I’m alive and that I literally went through the fire and survived.
“I’ve had the strength to show my scars more and not hide them beneath long sleeves, which is pretty massive for me.
“I was scared of the negative feedback I might receive but a lot of other burn survivors tell me how I’ve inspired them. ”
In 1976, Theresa woke-up to a real-life nightmare, when she saw flames edging closer to her, smoke filling the room and being unable to free her foot, which was trapped inside a bed spring.
She said: “I couldn’t get out and became really weak from the heat and the flames, I realised this was it. I was going to die and wasn’t getting out.”
Her uncle Clifford Roberts, 33, ran into the house and handed Theresa’s severely burned body out a window to her mother, moments later the walls collapsed with him still inside.
Police would later discover the fire was deliberate, but no perpetrator has ever been sentenced for the crime and it’s considered to be a cold case.
Theresa added: “I also had other burns on my stomach, upper chest, shoulders and neck, but I was lucky to be alive.
“After having the stitches taken out from my eyes, all I could see was my whole body burned, the scars, damage and disfigurement.”
After months recovering in the hospital, Theresa lived with her biological mum, who was an alcoholic, for a couple of months before she was taken away by social services.
She lived in a hospital for four years, then went to multiple homes before ending up with loving Betsy and Jos Vandermeer who adopted her at the age of 13.
Theresa added: “The Vandermeer’s were my real family they took me in and over 26 kids in total without question, they received the Great American Family award from the First Lady Nancy Reagan for their services.”
In 1992, after struggling to come to terms with her problems, Theresa tried to take her own life.
During her recovery in therapy sessions and her ‘inner healing from God’ she found contentment through redefining her mindset and started to learn to accept herself.
She says her three children and husband Larry Diehl, 48, has helped her to adore her inner and outer beauty, as well as gave her the confidence to talk about her experiences.
Theresa said: “I don’t go a day without him telling me I’m beautiful, he goes out of his way to uplift me and brags about me to other people.
“Society puts a big emphasis on being beautiful but the truth is that beauty comes from your inner heart not how you look.
“My scars are a blessing because they remind me to love myself and while I can’t change what happened to me, I know that I am still a beautiful person.”
Now she has released her autobiography ‘Through the Fire’, which she says has empowered her to reveal her scars online and in public.
Theresa said: “I’ve had the strength to show my scars more and not hide them beneath long sleeves, which is pretty massive for me.
“I was scared of the negative feedback I might receive but I was overwhelmed by the feedback I received, a lot of other burn survivors tell me how I’ve inspired them.
“If I never had to go through the fire I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am, have left the bad environment I was in and connect with such wonderful people.”
You can find out more or purchase her book by visiting here.