Leom was 35 and living in Birkenhead when during an October night, fire swept through his flat as he slept, he was rescued and taken to Whiston Hospital where he was placed in a medically induced coma for 2 months.
When was bought out of sedation, after multiple skin graft operations, 34% of Leom’s body was burned including his face, legs and left arm. He couldn’t talk for weeks and had reccurring episodes panicking that he couldn’t breathe. He stayed in intensive care for a further month before being moved to the specialist burns unit. There Leom worked with the physiotherapist on moving his legs and trying to walk again. He explains how he felt when he looked in the mirror for the first time. ‘It just didn’t look like me any more, the burns were so bad, my face was very scarred and my left hand, it looked like an ugly potato’. The hospital psychologist tried to help Leom come to terms with his injuries, but his poor state of mind at the time meant that he struggled to engage with the process.
After a little over 5 months in hospital, Leom was discharged and returned home, he continued to visit Whiston Hospital as an outpatient and finally after 6 months, the devastating decision was made to amputate his left hand. By now Leom was living in a flat by himself, he was struggling with the motivation to get up in the morning, didn’t go out at all and had no contact with anyone, he even had his food shopping delivered. He decided to get a dog and Duke, a husky cross, soon became Leom’s reason for living and the two became inseparable. Walking Duke gave Leom a reason to leave the house, but even then he kept his cap on all the time, trying to stay hidden away.
Leom came across The Katie Piper Foundation, he started talking to our staff about hair restoration and rehabilitation. Supported by our team, he had several hair transplants to restore not just the hair on his head but his eyebrows and part of his beard and this made a positive change to how he felt. ‘Having my eyebrows restored was a huge thing, I could look in the mirror and I looked more like me again, that was a big confidence boost’. In 2019 he came to stay at the newly opened KPF residential Rehabilitation Centre. This was something he had been considering for some time, but struggling with the thought of leaving Duke and unable to see how anything could make a difference to his life he had been unable to bear the physical and emotional upheaval he felt he would have to go through, ‘I thought that nothing could really help, my life was what it was, I was used to staying at home, to being on my own, what difference could anything really make? ‘.
Eventually Leom made the decision to come and stay for a week, even on the day he was due to come he was still unsure if he would actually make it. Fortunately, he did and once immersed in the intensive rehabilitation programme he began to see immediate benefits. He focused not just on his fitness and the physical aspect of his injuries with our physiotherapists and personal trainers but also on improving his confidence, working with our psychotherapist to strengthen his mental wellbeing. Through our peer support programme Leom met others with facial burns, he talked to them about how they were living their lives and they helped him to see that life didn’t have to be restricted ‘there was a couple of lads with burns, I had never seen anyone else who looked like me. Chatting to them helped me so much, I realised I’m not the only person in the world living with this, it really turned around to how I felt about myself’.
During his time at the Centre, Leom worked hard to regain his independence and to go out again, to meet new people and show his face. One day he went for a walk on his own, he walked for 7 miles even stopping off at the pub for a drink, something he hadn’t done since before the fire. He went to the cinema and out for a meal in a busy restaurant with his team from the Centre, feeling comfortable as part of a group. Bit by bit he began to see that life was there to be lived again and he could carry on regardless of his injuries.
Leom eventually stayed at the Centre for another week. On the day after his return home he took a huge step forward and went to a party, he now has contact with some friends and is rebuilding his social life. Reflecting on his life now he says ‘What The Katie Piper Foundation gave me was incredible, I don’t know where I would be without them, the combination of the hair restoration and the rehabilitation stay had a lasting impact on my confidence, I could see that I could live my life again’.
Now Leom is learning to drive and is looking forward to taking his driving test, another big step forward in his life.