A mum feared she had ruined her baby’s life when a boiling pan full of vegetables fell on him in her kitchen leaving him horrifically injured.
Michelle Whalley, 47, will never forget hearing her toddler son Charlie’s scream, which was so excruciating she thought he had “cut off a limb”, or the nightmare that followed the accident as his organs began shutting down.
Now 14, Charlie endured skin graft surgery, nine years of physiotherapy and was left permanently scarred – but has become a budding footballer and has just written the book with his mum which is available at burns units across the UK.
Michelle, a special educational needs teacher who lives in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria with her electrical engineer husband, Andrew, 47, Charlie and his older brother Oliver, 17, said: “When the incident happened, I thought our family life was over. I thought I’d ruined my son’s life forever.
“I did not know what his future looked like and we feared the worst for him.
“Writing this book was very important to us because we want to give other families of burns survivors hope for the future.”
Data from the International Burn Injury Database shows that in 2021 alone, more than 3,500 babies and children experienced severe burn or scald injuries at home in their own kitchen – and Michelle and Charlie are determined to raise awareness of the dangers.
The incident that inspired their book happened 12 years ago, in 2010, when Charlie was 15 months old.
Michelle said: “We were going on holiday that night, with a taxi booked to take us to the airport at two in the morning.”
She added: “I’d picked Oliver up from school and Charlie had a chest infection so I’d got him some antibiotics from the chemist.
“I was cooking in the kitchen, putting all of the potatoes, carrots and other veg into one pot. It was bubbling away when I suddenly remembered Charlie’s medication.
“I needed to know if he was supposed to take it on an empty stomach, so I left the kitchen to pick it up from the hallway.”
Michelle recalls how she left the boiling water unattended for a moment when she heard a commotion.
She said: “I was gone for a matter of seconds when I heard a scream like I’ve never heard before and I never want to hear again.
“I remember thinking that he must have cut off a limb, the scream was so excruciating.”
I did not know what his future looked like and we feared the worst for him
Michelle ran back into the kitchen where she found Charlie lying on the floor next to the pot with boiling water and vegetables on top of him.
She said: “I completely panicked. I started trying to take his clothes off but his skin was coming off with it.
“I ran him to the bath where I put him under cold water.”
She added: “At that moment, my husband returned home and he phoned the ambulance.”
The tot was taken to Furness General Hospital.
Michelle said: “His body was shutting down and doctors couldn’t get any drugs or fluid into him. They ended up having to drill into his bone to get fluids in.”
She added: “I was devastated, I kept thinking how I’d ruined his life.”
After five hours of trying to stabilise the infant, Charlie and his family were blue lighted to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Michelle said: “As soon as we arrived there was an absolute calm. We were surrounded by specialists and I knew straightaway we were in good hands and that Charlie was going to survive.”
But Charlie’s road to recovery would be long. A week after the incident, the youngster underwent a skin graft to remove skin from his right thigh to cover his chest, shoulders and right arm.
After that, Charlie spent nine years having regular check-ups and physiotherapy.
Michelle said: “The first few years were traumatic. For the first five months after the incident, Charlie couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone else without running the risk of an infection.”
I was devastated, I kept thinking how I’d ruined his life
She added: “A burn is big open wound that is difficult and complicated to heal.”
Now Charlie is a budding football player, training at Preston North End Football Academy.
Michelle said: “He is scarred for life over his right shoulder, his neck, under his armpit and across the right side of his torso but it has not held him back.”
Plans for National Burn Awareness Day 2022 are well underway. Our friends at the Irish Burn Safety Campaign have their copies of Lizzie's Accident & Charlie's Story, which the burns & plastics nursing team will be using to raise awareness at @CMRF_Crumlin tomorrow. #beburnsaware pic.twitter.com/zxMKWBdyGN
— ChildrensBurnsTrust (@CBTofficial) October 11, 2022
She added: “His burn injury is all he has ever known and he’s always told me that the scar doesn’t bother him.
“Watching him get older, learning to swim and ride a bike, and now an academy football player, which is something many boys dream of, has made me feel so proud and grateful.”
In 2018, Michelle broached the idea of writing a book with Charlie.
Our aim is to inspire children who have suffered burns and get them thinking positively about their own future
She said: “I mentioned that I’d thought it would be nice to put his story onto paper. He’s been through so much that I thought it would be nice to write it all down.
“Since then, it’s been a collaboration between us.
“I wanted to get the book into hospitals because I thought that if other kids could see Charlie thriving now, it would give them a lot of hope.”
She added: “It’s something that I wish we’d had at the time too.”
Michelle and Charlie fundraised to get the book published with help from two generous donors, Clifford Howarth Foundation and Preston North End Community and Education Trust.
Their 48-page book, titled Charlie’s Story and aimed at young children, is now available in 17 burns units throughout the UK and Michelle hopes more hospitals will soon take copies.
I thought that if other kids could see Charlie thriving now, it would give them a lot of hope
Explaining how the book is being printed and distributed, she said: “We’re not-for-profit and the book is not for sale, this is a labour of love.
“We’re not making any money from it at all, we’ve done it voluntarily on our own. The book is printed by a local, family-run printers and thanks to organisations like Children’s Burns Trust we’ve been able to get the book into burns units.”
The book, which highlights the full life Charlie is now leading after suffering severe burns is aimed at giving other burns survivors hope for the future.
Michelle said: “It follows Charlie’s timeline in reverse so it says, ‘This is his incredible life now and, by the way, he suffered this severe burn as a baby’.
“We also don’t just focus on Charlie but the child who will be reading the book too, such as, ‘This is Charlie and he likes football, what do you like? Charlie wants to be a footballer, what do you want to be when you grow up?’
“Our aim is to inspire children who have suffered burns and get them thinking positively about their own future.”
Charlie’s Story is available to order with a donation to the Children’s Burns Trust: www.justgiving.com/campaign/charliesstory