By Josh Saunders
A mum who survived an explosion at a BBQ embraces the cruel childhood nickname ‘BURNT FACE’ and now hopes to forgive the fire-starter.
Annette Swann, 52, from Mackay, Queensland, Australia, was nine-years-old when she suffered life altering scars after a man poured highly-flammable methylated spirit onto a low-lit barbeque fire.
She felt like the moment the cannister exploded happened in ‘slow motion’ as she flung her brother Ken, 11, out of the way and was struck by the flames.
At hospital, it was revealed she suffered 30% scarring to her upper body and face, that over her lifetime would require over 40 surgeries from skin grafts to scar loosening Z-plastys.
She battled vicious name-calling throughout school, from ‘burnt face’ to ‘monster’ but later found strength through husband Jason, 45, who encourage her to love her scars and herself
The mum of three, decided to embrace the vicious insult ‘Burnt Face’, even using it for the title of her memoir as a way to own the once demeaning comment.
Now she’s hoping for closure wanting to meet the man who caused the fire and hopes to get the chance to forgive him in person.
Annette, a business marketing manager, said: “In hospital, I remember seeing myself for the first time, I was being bathed and while the nurses held me up, they didn’t notice the mirror.
“When I turned into it, I first thought there was a painting of some horrible-looking creature. But then I realised it was me and it was horrific.
“School was the most traumatic thing, the kids would look at me like a freak and whisper. In class I used to hide my face behind my workbooks.
“I called my book ‘Burnt Face’ because that was the taunt I used to get, I remember one horrific time while walking home from school with a friend.
“Boys on bikes were riding around us, calling me ‘burnt face’ over and over again, until I ran away, I didn’t stop running until I got home.
“It was the name I constantly got and thought you know what, I’ll own that name now.
“While I still have my struggles at times, I have learned to love myself and my scars, so it no longer holds any power over me.
“The thing I now want is to be able to forgive the man who caused the fire, it would be great closure for us both.
“He has had to live with this his whole life, either blocking it out or struggling with it too.
“I’ve healed a lot and don’t blame him for what happened, I know it was an accident and would like to meet him.”
Annette sustained the burns at her mother’s work Christmas party in 1974, she and her brother Ken were sitting on a log fence talking before the explosion.
As the flames rose-up, she pushed him out of the way with ‘super woman’ like strength, sparing him but throwing herself further into the blast.
Annette said: “The main vivid memory I have is seeing the liquid pouring slowly onto a low-lit BBQ flame and after that it was like a movie in slow-motion.
“I don’t recollect the explosion, but I remember the flames shot up and exploded the bottle, I pushed my brother out the way and caught the brunt of the explosion.
“I remember being rolled in a blanket, opening my eyes and seeing a flame, I blacked out and only came to on the way to the hospital.”
Annette suffered burns to 30% of her upper body, neck and face, requiring surgery and a two-month hospital stay, where she received skin grafts twice a week.
She said: “The methylated spirit, caused my body to swell in intensive care, I remember the first night I was in hospital I was so disorientated I didn’t know I was burned.
“The next morning, I could hear people but not open my eyes, my face had swollen to the size of a basketball.
“My mom said I looked like ‘the Creature from the Black Lagoon’, she was horrified by what had happened, I looked like a monster.”
Since then Annette has undergone more than 40 surgeries, including skin grafts and procedures to release the tight scarring caused by the burns.
Throughout the years, she was victimised for her facial difference but maintains it was her mother Marlene, 72, whose encouragement led to her finding courage.
Annette said: “My mom is a very strong woman, she helped me to find my inner strength by not allowing me to hide and making me go out in public.
“My mom always told me to ignore any comments or stares, she reminded me I am beautiful on the inside and out and that my scars would heal.
“She taught me to stick up for myself, I’m thankful she gave me so much strength and confidence.
“She blamed herself for a long time until reading my book, in which I say how grateful I am to her and I believe that has helped her to overcome her trauma as well.”
Future-husband Jason was also a massive influence 25-years-ago, when he empowered her to see beautiful beyond the depth of her skin.
Annette said: “My scars traumatised me for so many years, I used to push people away because of it and with people I was dating, I would always wake-up before them to put on some makeup.
“My husband was the first person to see me without makeup, he walked in on me while I was putting it on and I remember cowering while I tried to hide.
“He told me ‘I love you, for you,’ and in that moment I realised he loved me no matter about the scars, and thanks to that I was finally able to start loving myself.”
Annette spent ten years writing her memoir Burnt Face, she intends on publishing a sequel and hopes it will help other burn survivors.
Since its release six months ago, she has become a Goodwill Ambassador for a South African support group called The Campio Burns Group.
They assist survivors in the region and raise awareness of burns abuse and accidents, with a strong emphasis on child and gender abuse in the South African context.
Annette said: “The main thing is to love yourself, the scars will heal and things do get better.
I want to inspire the parents and carers as that’s where the burns survivors will draw their strength and love.
“They are the backbone to shaping us into who we become and are incredibly important.”
To order her book visit: www.annetteswann.com.