By Hollie Bone
A burns survivor mummified for THREE MONTHS after suffering horrific burns when her dress caught on fire as a four-year-old has revealed her scars – to show others she’s ‘glad it happened’.
Saffron Cohen, 22, from Portsmouth, Hants, was four years old when her long summer dress caught alight while she was dancing by an uncovered gas fire, leaving her with third degree burns across 28 per cent of her body, covering her stomach, back and legs.
The assistant psychologist spent 12 weeks in hospital mummified in a full body bandage, underwent dozens of skin grafts and needed staples to hold her skin together.
Growing up, stunning Saffron struggled with the stares and taunts of onlookers but now, 18 years later, she has spoken out to mark National Burns Awareness Day tomorrow [WEDS] and revealed she is HAPPY she suffered the burns as they have helped her to help others – as she even wrote her university dissertation on the subject.
The 22-year-old said: “The whole experience was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the one around me.
“I was spinning in front of my gas fire in my house in a long flowing dress when it happened, the end of it caught on fire and went up in flames.
“It happened so quickly – my mum came down the stairs and just started screaming and grabbing towels.
“She was seven months’ pregnant with my brother at the time, so it must have been a traumatic experience for her.
“My neighbours heard her screaming and came round to see what had happened, they put me in the kitchen sink and called an ambulance.
“When the paramedics got to me they wrapped me in clingfilm and decided my burns were so serious they were going to divert me straight to hospital.
“I was burned across 28 per cent of my body so had to have loads of skin grafts.
“They’re a pretty nasty procedure, especially for a child.
“They had to staple the skin together and then later take the staples out – I still find that gruesome to think about even now.”
Saffron spent more than three months in hospital after a seven hour procedure to remove the damaged tissue before doctors stapled her grafted skin together and was sent home wearing a full body splint to keep it in place for six weeks.
Over the course of her life, she has had 18 skin grafts taken from the remaining healthy tissue on her stomach and legs.
The 22-year-old is still undergoing laser treatment today to help the skin stretch as a serious burn injury never really heals, meaning she must constantly go for hospital check ups and physio.
She said: “I think quite a lot of people don’t realise that it’s not actually burnt skin that is so problematic, it’s the necrotic tissue – the skin actually become toxic and that’s what they have to remove.
“I’m still going for procedures 20 years later, there’s a lot of work that goes into making sure the skin stretches as I grow.
“I think that’s another thing that people don’t realise about a burns injury, it never properly heals, you will always need treatment.”
As Saffron became a teenager, the emotional impact of her scars started to take a real toll on her life, as she battled with questions about how it would affect her relationships and people staring at her on the beach.
The youngster, who was once called a ‘freak’, even struggled to get changed in front of her peers in PE lessons.
But with the support of her mum, Chrissy, 46, dad, John, 48 and brother, Caleb, 17, survivor Saffron has learned to ignore the comments and embrace the skin she’s in.
Now she even claims she’s glad it happened as her experience of helping other people with serious burns injuries at support camps inspired her to write her dissertation.
She said: “When I was 13 I started to struggle with what had happened to me. When you’re a teenager the last thing you want is to be different and having people staring at you.
“I remember as we started to get older and we would get changed for PE together I realised how different it made me.
“People have always asked me questions like how it affects my relationships and I’ve even been asked if I can have children.
“I do still struggle with people staring at me but I’ve always been pushed by my family not to worry about what other people think and to be confident – if anything it’s other people that treat me like I’m special.
“I live by the coast and I’ve always loved going in the sea, so eventually I realised that if I let myself stop doing things for fear of people looking at me then I wouldn’t be living my life to the fullest.
“I can stand now stand in front of a camera with confidence because I refuse to let my spark be dampened by my appearance.
“In a weird way I’m glad that this happened to me because I’ve had so many opportunities to help other burns survivors.”
Saffron volunteers with the Children’s Burns Trust, which has helped to launch National Burns Awareness Day by supporting the SafeTea campaign to raise awareness of the danger of hot drinks after it was revealed that 30 babies go to hospital with a hot drink burn everyday.
She said her injuries have helped her support the important work the charity does.
Saffron added: “From a young age I’ve been going to burns survivor camps where I get to meet other people with injuries like mine.
“Now I go along as a volunteer and I get to meet people much younger than me that have only recently been burned and are trying to come to terms with what has happened to them – I can relate to what they are going through, and hopefully they can find comfort in my journey.
“I definitely think that my burns have made me want to help people and inspired me to study psychology – I even wrote my dissertation on burns support camps, and I’d like to work in trauma psychology one day.”
For more information on the campaign go to www.cbtrust.org.uk