A 21-year-old model who was “burnt beyond recognition” after a gas explosion has shared her amazing transformation almost three years after the horrific accident.
It comes as she said that despite her hopes to go back to modelling full time, reports News.com.au.
“Many agencies would prefer spotless to someone who is really scarred,” she said.
“It’s not like I’m scared of rejection or anything, but that’s fine, I’ll do it on my own.”
Desire Chinenye Benjamin, who hails from Nigeria, survived the explosion on June 17, 2016, only to describe the moments directly after when “my whole life flashed before my eyes while my body roasted, the fire was everywhere”.
“It was a matter of life and death. The doctors said my condition was very, very bad. It felt like I looked death in the eye and it looked away. I was numb.”
According to Ms Benjamin’s sister, Chinasa, the explosion occurred after Ms Benjamin, who is now 23, “tried to boil water to bathe in preparation for work” early one morning.
“She turned on the gas and struck the matches, it didn’t catch, then she did it again, it was then we heard an explosion,” Chinasa said. “The fire threw her against the door, and then blocked her exit.”
Ms Benjamin later described how she “didn’t smell the gas that leaked overnight” because she was in a hurry to get ready for work.
“There was fire everywhere. I was on fire, my clothes were on fire. I was burnt from head to toe,” she said.
She was rushed to a private hospital where doctors “had no conviction I was going to make it”.
“Everybody was waiting for me to die. I was swollen, there was blood everywhere. It was really, really scary.”
Desire described how at the time she “watched people die” while she spent months in hospital in recovery and “nobody let me see myself in the mirror”.
She used the reflection in a cup to look at herself and afterwards, she “lay down in my bed and started crying. All I saw was bad”.
It wasn’t until her discharge from hospital that she felt the “true reality of what happened to me”.
“Having strangers walk up to me at the mall and tell me to cover up because my scars were ‘unsightly’,” she said. “She said I shouldn’t come outside at all.”
Desire said she stopped communicating with her model management after the incident because she was “scared and embarrassed”.
“I couldn’t handle having my manager see me like that.”
Over the years she took to social media to update her followers on her arduous and painful recovery, including learning how to walk again.
“I couldn’t even stand, skin on my legs kept on tearing and bleeding whenever I forced myself to,” she said. “I cried to sleep every night. It made me understand that everything we are able to do with ease, from waking up in the morning, to being able to move our legs, hands, eyes, mouth, without thinking before even doing them is a great privilege.”
She said when she was finally able to walk along the hospital hall for the first time, she felt it was “a miracle”.
With help from Nigerian TV personality Blossom Emechebe, Ms Benjamin was able to pay for her surgery through public donations, including skin grafts on her legs.
When she was well enough to return home, she shut herself inside and found herself spiralling into depression.
“As time went by I was feeling lonely, I didn’t go back to work or school. I sat in the house from morning to night doing nothing. It was causing me a lot of depression. I was always angry.”
She said she was so afraid of public judgment because she could hear what people were saying as she walked the streets.
“I thought, ‘this can’t be me. Not every body survived in the hospital, why would I make it and still be ashamed? I need to be proud of my scars’. Most times when I go out and people talk about me, I say hello and greet them. I’m beginning to get used to it,” she said.
“I don’t listen to people any more. I don’t see them any more. I’m way passed it. I’m passed the low self esteem.”
This week Desire posted on Instagram that after nearly three years of intensive recovery, she is “here and ready for the world”. She said she even called her manager and talked about “seizing the opportunity”.
“There are other people hiding in their shells, I don’t want to do that. I want to reach out to people with scars, even if they’re not physical,” she wrote.
“I’m turning into a diamond from coal … surely I’m not beautiful like you; but I’m beautiful like me.
“I look at my pictures and they remind me that scars don’t form on the dying. Living is beautiful. Being a part of this world is beautiful. I feel so strong my wounds couldn’t kill me.
“The scars on my body are a sign of victory. I overcame what tried to consume me and I should be proud of it.”
The young model said she wants to go back to school and get back into modelling and build a foundation for people with scars to help them through their depression.
“I see many girls who want to see someone doing something for herself so she can be inspired.”