A mother-of-two accidentally set her face on fire while lighting a cigarette on her kitchen hob.
Louise Tanner, 50, from Worthing, West Sussex, couldn’t find a lighter, so decided to use the hob instead.
But as she leaned over, her hair, which had hairspray in, instantly went up in flames.
She was left with third degree burns on her head, face, ear and neck and has been left scarred for life.
Ms Tanner said: ‘That day was the worst day of my life but I’m just thankful to be alive.
‘I’m now speaking out to raise awareness for burn victims and let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’
Louise Tanner, 50, from Worthing, West Sussex, is pictured now, around 18 months after the accident, as she has nearly healed
In February 2019, Ms Tanner got ready as normal and applied hairspray to her hair.
She said: ‘A few hours later, I fancied a cigarette. I grabbed my packet and a lighter from my handbag, but it had run out of fuel.
‘I began searching the house but couldn’t find another one anywhere.’
Soon after, Ms Tanner gave up and decided to use the gas hob instead.
She said: ‘I clicked on the gas ring to light the cigarette, but as I leaned over to take a puff, my hair went up in flames.
‘I began running in circles around the kitchen, howling in pain. The flames quickly spread from my head down to my face and neck.
‘I kept screaming for help before desperately ripping my hair out from the roots.
‘My heart was pounding so hard I thought I might have a heart attack.’
After several panicked minutes, Ms Tanner ran the cold tap and dunked her head underneath it.
She said: ‘As the water drenched my head, I sobbed in relief. I was glad to be alive.’
Afterwards, in shock, Ms Tanner went upstairs to bed and fell asleep. A few hours later, her now-ex husband came home and found her in bed with half her face melted off.
Ms Tanner received a donor skin graft on her face after ‘half her face had melted off’
Ms Tanner said: ‘He was shaking me awake while screaming, asking what happened. I kept insisting nothing was wrong.’
Her husband called an ambulance and minutes later, paramedics arrived.
When Ms Tanner arrived at Worthing Hospital, doctors revealed that she had third degree burns to her head, face, neck and ear.
She said: ‘My face was extremely swollen and I could barely open my eyes. I felt like someone had beaten me up.
‘Thankfully, a nurse appeared and gave me a dose of morphine.
‘After I was bandaged up, two nurses used paper-clips to open my eyes so they could prise out my contact lenses.’
The following morning, Ms Tanner looked in the mirror for the first time.
She said: ‘Half of my face had melted off and half my head was burnt to a crisp. I felt so ugly. It was like I was in a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up.
‘Although I’d only burned 2.5 per cent of my body, it was in the worst possible place.’
The next day, Ms Tanner was transferred to a burns unit at East Grinstead Hospital. Doctors told her she’d be receiving a donor skin graft for her face.
Ms Tanner said: ‘I asked why they couldn’t use my own skin and the surgeon explained it’d involve more operations and would leave more scarring.
‘After the hour-long operation, I felt sick. There was a deceased person’s skin on my face and it stunk of rotten flesh.
‘My face looked like a quilt, it was devastating. I couldn’t stop thinking about how all of this could’ve been avoided if I’d just been more careful.’
Two days later, Ms Tanner was discharged from hospital. Determined to get back to normal, she headed straight to the shops.
Ms Tanner said that when she went to hospital her face was extremely swollen and she could barely open her eyes
She said: ‘As I browsed the aisles, I noticed a woman staring at me. I wanted to be angry but I couldn’t.
‘It was normal to be curious, I’d have done the same. After that I never let people upset me when they stared.’
Now, a year on, Ms Tanner’s face has nearly healed.
She said: ‘The skin graft still isn’t completely smooth. It has little bumps that look like pimples.
‘I also have nerve damage and can’t go into direct sunlight as my donor skin is so fragile.
‘But, it’s amazing how well I’ve healed in such little time. I can’t thank the doctors and surgeons enough.
‘I’m also thankful to my hairdresser, Jade, who took care to keep my graft dry while cutting and styling what was left of my hair.
‘I still smoke but I’m extremely careful now.’