Billy 's Story

At the age of fifty years I thought I had fulfilled my life to the highest level I possibly could or any man could wish for in life. On the back of my mind was the though of retiring. Give up the physical work and just go around looking after the business and workers. I though I have everything I wanted, first a good wife, three lovely children and a much respected business of thirty years that I had built on my own. In another way I had climbed the big mountain until I reached the top, somehow I got there.

At 8.15am December 24 th 1996 my life changed forever! I'm back on the bottom of that big mountain I was climbing all my life. Now thinking about how to climb up again with so many difficulties in my life is going to be hard. Deep down I though I had lost everything. I wish no human should go through pain, anger, sadness and disappointment that I went through for the last seven years. More was what I put my family and friends thru; not knowing for a month if I would live or not. Thanks to God I am still around, occasionally having a few drinks with my mates at the Orchard Towers.

As a subcontractor my business was welding live high pressure gas pipelines for the gas companies, maintenance work for Sydney Water pipe lines as well as construction work on Sydney for the Waterways Authority. Shut down maintenance repairs for oil refineries. I was the man they always called; the problem was I could never say no.

Yes it was Christmas Eve a rushing time; everybody wants everything done yesterday. Looking forward for a break for me and my workers. There was a small job to be finished at Belrose (Sydney NSW) , just around the corner from where I live. We started work at 7am welding on a platform round five meters high. We had worked for a while when at 8.15am there was a big explosion (a nearby 1000 gallon fuel tank exploded setting Billy on fire) . In a split second fire was everywhere. My eyes were burnt; I couldn't see anything only a fog in front of me. How I got down the steps from that platform and away from that explosion is a miracle, only God knows. One of my workers got burnt 30% and I got burnt 85%. After I chucked off my burning clothes I was so hot, in a few minutes I turned cold, so cold I was shivering on a thirty degree day. When the ambulance came they put me on drugs – morphine.

The job was small, we though to finish and then go for a drink at Forestville RSL. Instead it was Royal North Shore Hospital by ambulance. Strait away when it happened I felt I will no longer be able to work again.

I had told the ambulance lady my name, address and what had happened. A TV Crew turned up at my home asking about the accident. My wife Frances was shocked; she didn't know anything had happened. My seventeen year old son, Ivan talked to the TV Crew and told them “My dad was in business for thirty years, something must have gone very wrong. He was always careful with what he was doing.”

The dreams I have through the ordeal were unbelievable! I was out for a very long time. When I woke Frances was there at my bedside, we hugged and cried for a long time. After a while she says “Do you know what day it is?” Slowly I whispered “Must be Christmas Day.” “No it's the seventeenth of January!” said Frances. Then I knew I was in bad shape. I couldn't believe how long I was in a coma, nearly four weeks. All this time Frances was at my bed side and didn't know if I would live or not. I could not move any part of my body and had lost eighteen kilograms.

My oldest daughter Gilda came all the way home from holiday in Canada to be by my bedside. My youngest daughter Jackie was only thirteen years old and was very upset. Frances and Ivan comforted and reassured her that Dad will be OK. Ivan was strong and kept the family together.

My friends would come and see me; they were so shocked that they turned their heads and walk away from the room. The doctors and nurses where good, especially Dr Vandervord. He would check on me at five each morning, he works long hours, as I was. I have had thirty or more skin grafts operations and not finished yet.

When I came too I was hungry, I could have eaten anything. The hospital food was good, but my Frances would bring me her food and feed me like a baby three times a day for four month. Frances deserves a medal! With the support of Frances, my kids, my friends and especially Dr Vandervord and the staff of D-9 (Royal North Shore Hospital - Burns Unit) there was no way I was leaving this world. Thank God and all those who helped me through the most difficult time of any human life. God Bless.

My eyes were burnt and my vision took months to come back. I didn't want to look at the mirror for about four to five months. Even when I got my vision back I was still really scared to look. What am I going to see? I was in a pressure suit as well pressure mask over my head. After a while I decided to look. Gosh! I didn't want to be in this world! What I saw, I didn't recognize myself; it wasn't me! I didn't know what to think, I hardly slept for four months.

I was in Royal North Shore Hospital four months and recovery at Ryde for another three. At Ryde I really worked hard to get better, running around the block after everyone else had gone to sleep. When they finally let me go home Frances became my Doctor, nurse, wife, mother; everything. Part of my treatment was wearing a pressure suit. It is extremely painful to put on and take off. The only way I could do this is with Frances help because my fingers were so badly burnt. We went through this twice a day for two and half years. While my burns healed the itchiness was unbelievable!

I was very outgoing person before the accident. Thinking about what am I going to do now? I have to deal with my new appearance – New Face, New Life. My mind was elsewhere. What settled me down was first my beautiful family and second that in hospitals I have seen people a lot worse off than me and they are happy to be around no matter how they look. So I am just happy to be able to see my family and friends. I love them dearly. It is disappointing some of my friends don't come around anymore or phone, but I understand real friends are still around.

Seven years on every time I hear on the news or read in the papers about an accident or about people being burnt it's like an electric shock goes through my body. The Bali Bombing affected me a lot, especially seeing all the people who were burnt. It's felt like it had just happened to me.

After who knows how many skin graft operations I have my new life now which is much different. Big changes to me. I learn to be patient. Frances and I walk up too five kilometers each night and we work out in our own gym at home, which feels great. I'm so proud of my kids and their friends; they never lost love or respect or ..are ashamed of my new appearance. That's what keeps me going, stronger and stronger.

For a long time I didn't know if I will be able to drive. After medical tests I passed and can drive everywhere. I will never get booked for speeding that's for sure! Just happy to be on the front steering wheel. I drive to the shops, I go to restaurants. I go anywhere with my hat and sunglasses on; no body recognizes me. People do look at me twice; some ask if I was in the Iraq war. I'm used to it now and it doesn't worry me any more. I even start welding little things again in my shed. Bottom line is that I enjoyed what I was doing. That I loved work I probably would never stop if somebody up there didn't stop me.

I am thankful I still have my life, different appearance a bit. Only God save me. My faith, I always went to church since I was born and have no intentions of stopping; but have to admit I don't go every Sunday. I will make the effort to go more often like Frances.

I am happy to be alive – thank God and Frances!