Home for Christmas: Vanessa’s Story

When Vanessa Matheson and her family headed to a friend’s house for a BBQ in late November, her focus was squarely on one thing.


“Our friends have a pool, and there were lots of kids around, so of course we were just concentrating on making sure they were safe around the water.”

Within three hours, after towelling off her seven year old daughter, Vanessa was in the back of an ambulance racing to The Alfred with burns to 17 per cent of her body.

A fluke combination of unusual easterly winds and several small embers flying out from a chiminea had set Vanessa’s dress alight twice, resulting in severe burns to the back of her legs and hands.

“I was petrified…I was so scared,” said Vanessa, whose husband and friends tried to help her by at first rushing her into the pool, and then into a cold shower.

“And when the ambulance came I just remember screaming and being in so much pain.”

Vanessa doesn’t remember much after that, except for the comforting words from a nurse as they pushed her on a bed to the ward.

“Someone said to me, ‘you’re safe now, we’ll fix you up,’” says Vanessa, tears catching in her throat.

“It felt like the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Comfort from strangers and friends alike has been an enduring theme over the last four weeks for Vanessa, as her husband and four children eagerly await her return home.

“Our local church community, and even those we don’t have a connection with, have been incredible.”

“Our freezer is full of home cooked meals, they’ve taken my daughter out on play dates, and some friends even took my daughter’s Christmas list and bought everything on it for me to give to her.”

Vanessa had hoped to be home for Christmas, but like so many of our patients, it’s likely she’ll be spending 25 December here at The Alfred.

“I always say to my kids - other people might be having things even harder. And there are positives to look at.”

“The way my family has been supported and cared for during this time has blown us away.”

“Now we’re just looking forward to recreating Christmas, and being together as a family.”

“It doesn’t matter when - it just matters that we’re together.”