Burn survivor recounts harrowing ordeal and long, painful road to recovery

IT was not exactly a cliché dark and stormy night, but for Eileyn Chua (pix), what struck her felt like a bolt
of lightning.

She had smelt the odour of cooking gas and had gone to the kitchen to check when suddenly, there was a spark followed by a “bang”, which left her with 80% burns on her body.

The incident six years ago changed her life forever, Chua told theSun.

Recounting that fateful morning, Chua said she was in her room at her home in Penang. “It was about 1am when I got a whiff of gas odour. To make sure everything was in order, I went to the kitchen to check the knob on the gas stove.”

Unfortunately, there was a spark and before she knew it, there was an explosion that rocked her home. “I was flung backwards. Through the smoke, blurry-eyed, I could vaguely see things melting, plastic turning into wax and plates being smashed as my clothes caught fire,” she said. “I was in a lot of pain but I was still conscious of what was happening around me.”

Chua said she managed to crawl out of the rubble, trudged upstairs and changed her clothes, before stepping outside her house.

“The neighbours were already gathered in front of my house and some were taking photographs of me. It made me angry,” she said.

The ambulance arrived shortly after and Chua was taken to hospital where she was warded. “Only then did I fall asleep. I was so tired that I lost consciousness.”

But the worst had yet to come. The doctors at the Penang Hospital told her that she would not only need surgery but would also have to be put in an induced coma.

“They said this was necessary because the treatment would be painful,” she recounted.

Chua spent the next two and a half months relieving the nightmare, always feeling that someone was torturing her. “I was confused and lost. It was a difficult time.”

To make matters worse, she could not move nor was she in control of her bodily functions.

Even the doctors were not sure if she would survive. “It’s a miracle I am still alive today.”

Even after being discharged from the hospital, Chua’s battle would continue for another four years. “It was a period of frequent visits to the hospital for skin grafting, and even learning how to walk again.”

“The burns had taken away most of my skin, and the doctors had to take some of the skin from
my head to graft onto my hands,” she said, as she unconsciously touched her head that was covered with a scarf.

Chua said her sister Juliana had even offered her skin but the physicians said it would not work.

It took Chua seven months after the incident before she could walk, albeit with a cane. “That was a major breakthrough, given that my chances of survival was initially regarded as slim,” she said.

It took two years before she could stand without a cane. All in, she was in the hospital for a year and three months. Chua attributed her recovery to a lot of encouragement from
like-minded friends from the United States, and the books by motivational speaker and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl.

“He had described the experience of prisoners and that struck a chord with me, given that I too felt like a prisoner. I was just a number in a room.”

Chua said it was during her time in intensive care when she realised that she was no longer the same person, and that she had to accept it.

Today, she is an advocate for burn survivors, often sharing her thoughts on the Facebook page called “Rising From The Ashes”, and giving motivational talks.

She is also in the midst of writing her memoir, while she continues her law practice.

Her wish now is to see schools create programmes that teach children to effectively extinguish flames if their clothes catch fire.