Until that fateful day, I ran a successful business and was aware that looks are important. I know that first impressions count.
In October 1999, I was on an express train which smashed head-on into another train that had just left Paddington. The impact created a massive fireball inside my compartment. I was left with full thickness burns to my face, hands and legs and was unconscious for three weeks. The crash killed 33 people and left more than 400 injured.
The medical team at the Charing Cross Hospital saved my life and the treatment involved major surgery, long-term burn care nursing, physiotherapy and psychological help. When I first saw my burned face in the mirror — several weeks after the crash — I sobbed hysterically in my hospital room, convinced my life was over. To help recover from my injuries, I wore a Perspex mask to help reduce the scarring. For the first 2 years I had to wear it 23 hours a day. It was very uncomfortable, but saved me from major disfigurement, and led me to be known as ‘The Lady in the Mask’.
It not just the physical injuries that I still bear – but the invisible scars too. Standing at a station platform, I have to turn my back when the train pulls into the station and take some deep breaths, the screeching of wheels on steel tracks, or a loud sound can trigger flashbacks.
But, despite my altered appearance and my psychological scars never fully healing, I can now say that the crash was the best thing that ever happened to me. It has thrown me challenges I wouldn't wish on anyone, but it has made me appreciate life. Everything now seems to me to be technicolour, exciting and I want to embrace it all.
I was lucky, lucky to survive and to thrive. But many people don’t, many people struggle to cope, and many people don’t get the care they need. I hope that through the Scar Free Foundations research, a best practice in medical treatment for burns and scars can be developed further, and the needs of people affected by disfigurement will be met. I also hope that more scientific research can unlock the key to a scar free future.