The fire left Aniek Nieuwenhuis, now 24, with severe third-degree burns, 85% on the surface and 10% internal. She was 9 when the life-changing accident happened.
“When I eventually got to the hospital, I spent five months in the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my mom was told I had a 20% chance of survival. ”
“I thought the hospital stay was hard, but going out into the public with stares was the worst. I wanted to hide forever, but my mother didn’t let me to do that,” said Nieuwenhuis.
This week, the country observed Burn Awareness Week, to provide an opportunity for burn, fire and life safety educators to share a common burn awareness and prevention message in communities.
To date, Nieuwenhuis has had more than 50 surgical procedures.
“For a long time I was despondent and didn’t want to talk about it. I needed to learn how to navigate my body. I needed to learn the basics, like walking and eating,” she said.
Unlike some burn victims, her story has a happy ending. Last month she graduated from UCT’s humanities faculty (fine arts) with full distinctions for her academic programme, the first student from the department to achieve this.
Explaining the vulnerability of children, Russel Meiring, ER24’s communication officer, said: “Young children are more likely to sustain burn wounds as they are more accident-prone and do not understand the safety aspects of fires and electrical appliances.”
He said burn injuries commonly happened in and around a home, with kitchens a prime area for such accidents.
The head of the burns unit at the Red Cross Hospital, Dr Gary Dos Passos, said kettle-related injuries accounted for many of the hot water burns at the hospital.
His advice: keep kettles, and their cords, on high counter tops which toddlers cannot reach and don’t leave toddlers unattended anywhere near a recently boiled kettle.
Also, don’t carry containers of hot water around when children are underfoot as accidents can easily happen. And, when running a bath, always check the temperature before putting a child in.