Images & Story courtesy of The Sun

Taylah Hemming

Location: Australia

Date Of Injury: December 2013

A STUDENT who was “burnt to a crisp” in a traumatic Boxing Day boat explosion now says that a gruelling fitness regime has made her happier than she’s ever been.

Taylah Hemming, 21, was left her looking like a “monster” after a trip out on her family’s ski boat ended in disaster. The family had been at their local aquatics centre in Forbes, New South Wales, Australia, when catastrophe struck. Within a split second of the engine being switched on, flames engulfed the entire deck and physiotherapy student Taylah was left covered in severe burns.

The first time Taylah saw herself in a mirror a couple of days after the accident, she didn’t recognise the scarred “monster” staring back. The traumatised young woman soon began to suffer with terrible anxiety and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, Taylah got her life back after throwing herself into keeping fit and now says that she feels better than she did before the devastating accident. “I suffered awful flashbacks of the explosion, nightmares, and avoided looking at myself in mirrors for the first two days,” Taylah said. “It’s taken a long time, but now I look back and think, ‘Wow, if I got through that, I can get through anything.’

“Behind every scar there’s a story, and I feel more comfortable in my skin now than ever.” When she stepped onto the boat with her uncle Allan on December 26 2013, Taylah couldn’t wait to get out on to the lake. But as he switched on the engine, the boat was engulfed in flames.

Taylah said she remembers hearing her cousin Dylan, now 19, who’d been splashing around in the water, screaming, “Fire”. Scorching hot, she jumped into the knee-deep lake, and desperately tried to cover her whole body with water. Allan, who’d tried to put the fire out with an extinguisher, then jumped in too. Shouting for help, Taylah recalls seeing her sister Jayden, 19, standing on the bank, frozen in shock – an image which still haunts her in flashbacks.

Her brother Jake, 19, who was also nearby, jumped in the water and rushed over to splash her – desperate to help her cool down. Members of another family also helped to put out the fire with an extinguisher, while a stranger called the emergency services. “Despite being burnt to a crisp, I was shivering with cold,” Taylah said. “Doctors later said this could mean I’d burnt my nerves. Adrenalin and shock erupted through my system. On an emotional rollercoaster, I laughed one minute and sobbed the next.” The fire brigade, who’d arrived at the same time as an ambulance, also tried to cool Taylah down with water.

“The hair around my face was so singed I smelt horrific, and the flames had burnt off my eyebrows and lashes,” she recalled. Allan and Taylah were both airlifted to the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, an hour-and-a-half’s helicopter ride away. While her family – her mum Jo Hemming, 47, the twins, her aunt Darylene, cousins Dylan and Jamie, 23, and her boyfriend Tim Prior, 23 – had to drive five hours to catch up.

Allan, who had suffered inhalation burns to his windpipe, was rushed to intensive care. He was discharged after two weeks with no lasting damage. Meanwhile, Taylah was bandaged up and assessed by a surgeon, who gave her antibiotics and fluids. She was told she’d suffered thermal burns from the flames and heat, which are progressive and take five days to show up.

Like clockwork, five days later, Taylah’s skin was red raw and her limbs were covered in scabs and blisters. Moved from a general medical ward to the burns unit and suffering 30 per cent burns to her legs, arms and face, she had skin from the inside of her leg grafted on to the outside. She said: “I’d avoided mirrors, so when I accidentally set my mobile to selfie mode and saw the sizzled face staring back, I was horrified. “‘That’s not me,’ I said, flinging my phone away. “I looked like a monster.”

Her supportive boyfriend Tim, an electrical assistant, stayed by her side for the entire three week hospital stay and held her hand through each “excruciating” dressing change. When she was finally discharged, Taylah was still pink-faced and needed to attend regular check-ups for eight months.

She also battled with her anxiety. She said:”Seeing petrol stations and anything with an engine made me shake with distress, cooking was difficult, because there was no way I could be anywhere near a stove. Anything hot was a no-no.”

After confiding her fears in her mum, Taylah began attending cognitive behavioural therapy sessions with a psychologist, who helped to rationalise her thoughts. By the end of February 2014, she started to feel better and was determined to turn her life around. Taylah threw herself into a gruelling fitness regime – determined to have a six pack. Working out six days a week, she did a half an hour morning jog, followed by an hour’s weight training session each afternoon. She even adopted a paleo diet – eating natural food – as part of the healthy lifestyle.

She said: “Exercise helped me overcome my anxieties and nightmares and made me learn to love my physique, out of every negative, comes a positive, and after what happened I believe I’ve been given a second chance at life. I’ve used it to become healthier and happier.”