Sheffield burn survivor Lucy sets up website to tell stories of others after learning to embrace her own scars
A woman who suffered serious burns as a baby is telling the stories fellow survivors from around the world after learning to embrace her own scars.
Lucy Wilson was scalded by hot bath water in a freak accident a day before her first birthday.
It took less than a second for the damage to be done. She suffered scarring to a third of her body, and had to have the tips of some of her fingers and toes amputated. Her entire right leg was badly burnt.
Since then Lucy has had more than 50 operations, and still has regular skin grafts. But she has never let the scars stop her living her life.
Now 21 and a journalism student at Sheffield Hallam University, she has set up ScarGlobal.org. The website tells the stories of burn survivors from different countries, many of whom do not have access to the excellent medical care Lucy has had her entire life.
A keen traveller, Lucy got the idea during a visit to Cambodia.
“I’ve always been fascinated with overseas development and passionate about burn survivors,” she said. “I thought, why not find out how they are treated overseas?
“I volunteered at a disabled orphanage in Cambodia. The children there were ostracised from society. If it wasn’t for this place they would almost certainly have been dead.”
Lucy searched online for anything documenting these people and their lives – but she found very little. So she started ScarGlobal, and tried to get in touch with as many different people as she could.
She had responses from Asia, South Africa, the USA, and closer to home in the UK. Some of the stories she heard were both heartbreaking and inspiring.
“We are just so lucky to have the medical resources that we do,” said Lucy. “In Cambodia I spoke to some volunteers in the hospital. They said there is just no such thing as burn survivors. They don’t have the resources to save them.
“I’ve learned a lot. I could picture myself in another part of the world, and I basically wouldn’t be here.”
Lucy soon discovered that burn survivors are treated very differently in other countries. She met representatives of South Korean charity The Hallym Burn Foundation when they visited the UK, and was told people there do not often speak out about their experiences.
“They said burn survivors just give up. They were travelling all around the world, trying to find ways to improve things,” she said.
Lucy met burn survivors from South Africa, some of whom were set on fire deliberately by their parents, on a visit to the UK for medical treatment.
One, teenager Sizwe, was cared for by a charity called The Children of Fire, and later adopted. He told Lucy about the gossip and staring he has to deal with, his passion for swimming and his ambition to one day manage a business.
She also spoke to photojournalist Giles Duley about his trip to Bangladesh to meet acid attack survivor Shumi Akhtar.
Lucy set up ScarGlobal in September, not knowing what to expect. But the response so far has been positive.
“It’s been great,” said Lucy. “I didn’t think it was going to get a great following. But the views have been really good.”
The website is also a way for Lucy, originally from Derby, to share her own story. She spent years coming to terms with her scars.
“On a daily basis I have to deal with people staring, pointing, whispering to each other,” she said.
“I have had people follow me round shops, and bus drivers not putting change in my hands. The physical side of it is one thing but the hardest generally is the emotional side. You have to learn to accept yourself and that you are different. I’ve had to find my own demons.”
But Lucy now says she is proud of her scars. She tries to express that through her website and show other burn survivors they too can live full and enjoyable lives.
“My scars show my survival and that I was given another chance,” she said. “I want people to see that I embrace my burns, so that they can feel like they can embrace theirs too. My scars tell my story and teach me every day that life is too precious. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Lucy has even written an article about the advantages of being a burn survivor, which was published on her website. And her work speaking out about her experiences has led to ambassador roles for two charities, Restore and The Healing Foundation.
“My message has always been that it’s a struggle but you shouldn’t feel bad,” she said. “It’s a cliché, but it does get easier.”
Lucy’s passion for sharing other people’s stories has resulted in another project, called Humans of Sheffield. Originally a university project set up by Lucy and some fellow students, it is a website compiling interviews with people from across the city in a similar vein as the Humans of New York project.
“It doesn’t matter who they are, as long as they have a story to tell,” said Lucy.
Humans of Sheffield so far has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter, and has shared a range of stories by several writers. One of Lucy’s stories was about Kathryn Topham, who has worked on the burns unit at Sheffield Children’s Hospital for six years.
“It was weird going in,” said Lucy. “I hadn’t been on a ward for a while. I listened to her stories.
“She said some children really stay in her mind – I’m still in contact with my nursery nurse.”
Lucy added: “I find people so interesting. Finding out what’s going on in their life.
“We are all guilty of people watching, but Humans of Sheffield is going beyond that. People see the pictures and recognise the people. They want to know more about them.”
Lucy’s hard work has been rewarded with an inspirational women’s award at Sheffield Hallam University, and ScarGlobal.org has made it into One World Media’s student award long list.