BURNS GIRL OLIVIA COMES HOME
by HANNAH ROSS
WHEN four-year-old Bangalow girl Olivia Fitzgerald was burnt in a hot oil accident in January she let out a scream of terror her family and neighbours will never forget.
"It was a scream of pure hell," said Olivia's mother, Trudi.
Fortunately, that scream is starting to echo a little less loudly as Olivia continues along her road to recovery.
This week she was back among her friends at Bangalow Community Children's Centre, oblivious to the dressings that continue to protect her damaged skin.
Olivia's preschool teacher Teresa Pattison said the kids were now acting out the accident in the sandpit kitchen.
"The kids say, 'watch out for the frying pan Olivia, you don't want to get burnt'. And Olivia tells them about using water and ice to stop the burning. It is a very positive way for them to deal with it all," said Ms Pattison.
The emotional resilience of her little girl brings some comfort to Trudi, who is having a tougher time dealing with the impact of the events which unfolded on the night of the accident.
Trudi was deep-frying dim sims on her stove top when she left the kitchen briefly. When she returned a small fire was leaping out of the oil in the pan.
Her immediate reaction was to remove the pan from the stove. However, once it was out from under the range hood, the fire leapt higher.
Feeling her face and hands burning, Trudi went to the door and threw the oil down a small flight of steps.
"It was 8pm. It was dark. I didn't even register someone could have gone outside," Trudi said.
Both mother and daughter experienced a horrible split second before the oil hit Olivia. The little girl just had time to put her right arm up, which is the area she suffered the most extensive burns.
"What sits inside me is this great big 'sorry'. I don't blame myself. It was an accident, but I spend all my time wishing something else had happened that night. Why was I cooking with oil? Why didn't we go out for dinner," Trudi said.
Olivia has spent eight weeks in Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital, undergoing skin grafts from her left leg and suffering two weeks in isolation with a golden staph infection.
Trudi said she had always been one to 'stop and smell the roses' in life, and she was trying to see any positives to come out of the accident.
"One day the lessons we were meant to learn out of this will become apparent. Maybe Olivia will become a surgeon," she said.
Bangalow has rallied around. Fundraising events are being planned to help with Olivia's recovery, while Byron Music discounted the cost of a keyboard for the Bangalow
Community Children's Centre to donate to the hospital. Trudi said the community's support had been beautiful yet confronting.
"I've never had a problem being the centre of attention but it was really hard in this situation. Coming home was like returning to this huge family which was all feeling it too."