Woman badly burned after sari catches fire
Woman suffers third-degree burns when sari catches fire in temple
She was at a temple to pray when she found herself engulfed in flames after her sari suddenly caught fire.
Horrified worshippers looked on as Miss Joena Shivani Thomas Nathan screamed for help while ripping off her burning clothes.
By the time the flames were put out, Miss Joena had third-degree burns that covered 60 per cent of her body. The burns were so severe, doctors did not expect her to live beyond 72 hours.
The freelance make-up artist, 37, who is now recovering, said she was at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple at Serangoon Road at around 3.30pm on Jan 20 to pray.There were about 100 devotees then.
Miss Joena suddenly noticed the air around her was thick with smoke.
When she looked down, she saw the hem of her sari had caught fire.It was a small flame and she tried to brush it off with her hands.
But within seconds, the fire had spread to the rest of her sari.
Miss Joena told The New Paper recently: "I became like a fireball. I was screaming for help, but no one helped me. I guess they were too shocked to react and didn't know what to do.
"At that point, I didn't care any more and just ripped off my sari and my undergarments."
She recalled tearing off her clothes while making her way to a restroom to splash water on herself.
"I ripped off my burning clothes until I stood naked from the waist down, dressed in only my sari blouse," she said.
Miss Joena said a young woman came forward minutes later and covered her with a gunny sack.
Somebody used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire that was burning the sari.
The young woman with the gunny sack took a sari from a nearby tray of offerings and used it to cover Miss Joena.
Miss Joena was given a chair to sit on while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
She said: "I was conscious throughout the ordeal. I could see that my flesh had melted away.
"I could see my raw flesh underneath. But I didn't feel any pain."
It is not unusual for third-degree burn victims not to feel any pain because of damage to their nerve endings.
An ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later and took Miss Joena to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
A doctor told her she was extremely lucky to survive as a large part of her body had been burned, including her arms and the areas below her breasts.
She said: "I could have died. When I was admitted to hospital, they expected me to live for only another 72 hours."
The Singapore Civil Defence Force told TNP that it received a call about the incident at around 4.30pm and sent two fire bikes, a fire engine and an ambulance to the temple.
Its spokesman said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Miss Joena said she has no idea how her clothes caught fire.
When TNP called the temple, a man who identified himself as Mr Kumar said Miss Joena had been instructed "not to talk to the media" and hung up.
When she called her mother that evening to tell her about her ordeal, her mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Annal, 57, thought she was joking.
The kindergarten helper said she realised that Miss Joena was serious only after she heard a nurse's voice in the background.
She said in Tamil: "I dropped everything and rushed to the SGH burns unit. I was shocked and sad to see my daughter in such a bad condition."
Miss Joena had her first operation the next day. It was followed by seven more skin grafts and operations. (See report above.)
For about a month after the incident, she threw up constantly. She lost 20kg as she could resume eating solid food only about a month later.
"At one point, I was wrapped up in clear plastic like a mummy. I could not move, not even to go to the toilet. The nurses had to help me with a bedpan."
By the time she was discharged on March 22, her medical bills came up to $75,000 after subsidies.
Miss Joena, who used to earn about $1,000 a month, said her case has been referred to a medical social worker and is under review.
After years of sharing a rental home with friends, she is now back in her mother's three-room Tampines flat until she recovers.
She still has to go to SGH twice a week for check-ups and physiotherapy.
Miss Joena said her mother tries to help her financially, but she does not earn much and has her own expenses.
She said she is receiving $300 a month from ComCare, an initiative of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to provide social assistance to the low-income.
The MSF told TNP that its social service office is helping Miss Joena with ComCare financial assistance from June to September.
To help with the healing process, she must wear compression garments over the injuries daily for two years.
She said they are uncomfortable and make her hot and itchy.
"Looking back, I'm glad that my face was not burned," she said.
"I don't feel sad about what happened to me. My scars are going to be with me for the rest of my life. Life goes on.
"Being sad won't solve anything. I must remain strong."
TYPES OF BURNS:
- Considered the mildest of burns, causing swelling, redness and pain.
- Caused by brief skin contact with heat.
- Quite painful and blisters are common. the skin can appear mottled white to cherry red.
- Can be caused by hot liquids and solids, or when one’s clothes catch fire.
- Can also be caused by contact with certain chemicals.
- Little or no pain due to nerve damage. skin can become charred, leathery or have a very pale appearance.
- Can be caused by prolonged contact with flames, hot liquids or solids, chemicals, or electricity.
SOURCE: THE HEALTH PROMOTION BOARD
Her skin won't be the same, says doc
Even after her skin grafts, Miss Joena Shivani Thomas Nathan's skin will never be the same as it was before she got burned.
Dr Tan Ying Chien, a plastic surgeon at The Sloane Clinic, told The New Paper that after the grafted skin heals, it could have a different colour from the surrounding areas.
It could take up to two years before she is totally healed.
Dr Tan, who is trained in burns surgery but was not involved in treating Miss Joena, said: "Multiple skin grafts may be needed for extensive burn cases like hers."
He explained that for skin grafts, a thin layer of skin is taken from places on a patient's body that are not affected by burns.
After the patient's damaged skin is removed, the graft is either sewn on or stapled to the affected area.
The area is covered by dressing, which is removed about a week later, after the skin adheres fully.
Dr Tan said that after undergoing skin grafting, patients have to have physiotherapy.
This is to ensure that the skin does not thicken to become scars, he said.
Physiotherapy also helps the patient resume her mobility to the level before the injury as much as possible, especially when the burns involve joints.
"Patients must also wear pressure garments for a period of time to keep the grafted skin soft and supple," said Dr Tan.
IF YOUR CLOTHES CATCH FIRE:
- Remain calm and do not run.
- Drop to the floor immediately.
- Roll from side to side while covering your face with your hands to smother the flames.
- SOURCE: THE SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE EMERGENCY HANDBOOK
- Cool the affected area under cold running. water or immerse it in cold water for at least 10 minutes. For chemical burns, wash off the substances.
- Remove constricting clothing and accessories from the area before it starts to swell.
- Cover it with sterile dressing.
- Consult a doctor if the burn or scald is not severe. Otherwise, dial 995 for an ambulance.
A burn is severe if it affects:
- More than 5 per cent of the body surface (more than five times the size of the person's palm)
- Mouth, throat, eyes, ears or genitals
- Apply toothpaste, lotion or ointment to the affected area.
- Cover it with cotton wool.
- Break any blister or remove anything sticking to the burn.
SOURCE: SCDF EMERGENCY HANDBOOK