Twelve year old Kempsey local Shakaya Howarth and her nan, Jacqui Ford, have experienced a very rough 2017. An accident with a lighter left Shakaya with four degree burns to 25 per cent of her body and ongoing medical costs. Jacqui is a Deputy Captain with the Dondingalong Rural Fire Service and understands the dangers of fire better than many. Both Jacqui and Shakaya hope the community can dig deep to help make 2018 a brighter year for the family …
Hi Jacqui and Shakaya. Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Jacqui: I’m a mother to three children, who have given me the best gift they could ever have given me – 11 gorgeous grandchildren. I moved to Kempsey around 12 years ago.
Shakaya: I’m 12. Before my accident I was happy, fun, energetic, and loved life and school. I’ve lived with my nan for a while now. I see my mother, brother and sisters every day; I just live with Nan, as she needs me as much as I need her. I go to Kempsey Primary School and love all my teachers and friends.
Jacqui, please explain the accident Shay experienced …
Half of 2017 was a nightmare …On August 17th, I was at a hotel, as my house was being remodelled. I got a phone call to let me know I needed to be by Shay’s side … I didn’t know the extent of what had happened until I got there.
Once I arrived at the scene, I was met by both police and ambulance paramedics. I had to be strong for my daughter, Kylie, Shakaya’s mother, and for my granddaughter, who was screaming out for me and in pain. It broke my heart into a million pieces.
Shakaya’s accident happened due to children playing with a lighter they had found. Shay went over to push her sister out of harm’s way, and her shirt caught on fire. Shakaya remembered what she had been taught in school about “drop and roll” – and the quick thinking of Shay’s mum putting her in a cold shower saved her life.
Shakaya had to be sedated, as the pain and burns were so severe, while we were transported by ambulance to the airport, then airlifted to Westmead Children’s Hospital, where she received all her care – including ongoing care.
Shakaya, what’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to cope with since your accident?
The hardest part has been the pain and not being able to be like a normal kid, running around in the sun, going to the beach, going down to my Aunty Barb’s house – and most of all, just sleeping at night and keeping cool.
I have a burns suit on that covers me from the top of my head down to my knees, and I can’t be out in the sun for long or if it’s really hot. I can’t go out the back and play until late in the afternoon, as we don’t have enough shade outside.
All the physio, and the massages and creams I don’t like either, as they hurt, and take up so much time.
Whenever I go out anywhere, people stare at me – and it makes me not want to go anywhere. If they asked me what happened, I would tell them; I just hate when they stare.
Jacqui, what injuries has Shakaya had to battle?
Shakaya received four degree burns to 25% of her body, and has skin grafting sites as well. She battled fluid build-up in her body and an infection which landed her in ICU in an induced coma for a week. We were terrified at that time that we would lose her … It was the hardest thing in the world to sit beside her while she was in the coma, but Kylie and I did it. We had the love and support from my other daughter, Barbara, and her husband, Troy, who have been amazing throughout this whole time.
Shakaya now has a burns suit on 24/7 for a minimum of 18 months to try and help her burns to heal, and I have to do daily washes, countless massages and creams, as well as make sure she has all her night time dressings on.
Shakaya also suffers from epilepsy, which makes it very difficult to keep her cool with the suit on. When she overheats, she suffers fits.
Shay, how has Nan helped you since your accident?
My nan has been amazing. She has never left my side and does all the stuff that I need done every day and doesn’t complain. I know sometimes I get angry and speak mean to Nan … I don’t mean it! I love her so much; I just get very frustrated and angry. Nan has been there for every surgery, every hard day I have had and has never said, “What about me?” She makes everything about me …
Jacqui, what medical treatment does Shay need?
Shakaya needs creams applied at least five or six times a day, to keep the skin nice and moist, so it can stretch and heal easier and help with the scarring.
Shakaya also has to have monthly trips down to Westmead for her treatments and counselling and new burns suit fittings. We are in the process of seeing dieticians, as she needs a high protein diet for the recovery of her skin, and she will be seeing a psychologist to help her deal with everything that has happened, as well as physical therapy.
Jacqui, how can the community help Shay?
We are trying to raise funds to be able to get some shade and play equipment for Shay to be able to play under, and we are in desperate need of a car. My old car has no air-conditioning; it’s very uncomfortable for Shay, as it’s around a 10 hour round trip to the hospital. The last trip we took to Westmead, Shakaya had a total of three fits. It took her days to recover, due to overheating in the car.
Shakaya, what are your hopes and dreams?
My dream is to make the world a better place: I hope the homeless are able to get a nice warm place to live.
Since my accident I want to live every day of my life trying to help people, as when I didn’t want to be here I had my nan, my mum, my Aunty Barb and Uncle Troy looking after me, so I want to help others like I was helped.
When I grow up I would love to be a beautician and master makeup for everyday use and going out, as well as movie make up – that would be the ultimate dream.
Jacqui, you’re a RFS member at Dondingalong. What’s your role there?
I’m a Deputy Captain at the Dondingalong branch, just outside of Kempsey. I have been a volunteer at this branch for seven years, and many times we get called out to defend people’s properties in dangerous situations – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love helping my community.
How can we help support Shay?
To help support Shakaya and raise funds for an air-conditioned car to make her travel time more comfortable, please visit the GOFUNDME page that our local member Melinda Pavey set up. Funds raised will also help pay for the ongoing costs of Shay’s recovery: www.gofundme.com/help-shakaya-and-her-grandma
Thanks Jacqui and Shakaya.
Interview by Jo Robinson.