A 27-year-old Georgia woman who was burned beyond recognition in a campfire accident last year has told her story to PEOPLE Magazine, saying, “I thought I was dying.”
Courtney Waldon opened up to PEOPLE to talk about that moment on Sept. 30, 2016, when she was camping her with newlywed husband, sitting by the campfire cooking tuna steak and asparagus, and then, suddenly, she was engulfed in flames. Her husband had gotten up to relight the fire, and in swinging the gas can, some of it splashed on Waldon’s body.
Then came her desperate attempt to put the flames out.
“I stopped, dropped and rolled while screaming bloody murder,” Waldon told People. “I thought I was dying.”
She survived but suffered fourth-degree burns to her face and third-degree burns to her hands, legs and feet. Two weeks after she arrived home from the hospital, the mom to 5-year-old daughter Caroline was abandoned by the husband she had married just two months earlier.
“My hands got so burnt because I was trying to put out my face,” she told PEOPLE. “I felt every inch of my flesh burning off that night.”
Fortunately, Waldon was not far from a hospital as an ambulance arrived just in the nick of time.
“They said if the ambulance arrived one minute later I wouldn’t have made it,” Waldon said. “I just started praying to God in the ambulance.”
She was in an induced coma for 30 days during a 51-day hospital stay, which included 40 days in the ICU.
“I just wanted my daughter,” she said. “She’s the reason I live.”
One of the most difficult moments of her recovery, she said, was seeing her burned face for the first time.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I got sick to my stomach and almost passed out,” said Waldon, who has had undergone 20 surgeries since the incident. “I shouldn’t be here, but I am. I know that there are people out there who have it worse than I do. I’ve always been a believer that everything happens for a reason, and I still believe that.
“God saved my life, and now I have work to do on earth to help others. I received a message three days ago from a lady who said she didn’t kill herself because of my story,” she told the publication.
She even found solace in her husband abruptly leaving after he told her he “couldn’t handle or deal with me any longer.”
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Waldon told PEOPLE. “I think if he was around, he would be holding me down. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today and wouldn’t have made as much progress.”
A GoFundMe account was created to help with medical bills and lack of income. Waldon and her daughter live with her parents. However, PEOPLE reported that Refuge Ministries of West Georgia is in the process of building her a new home free of charge on her parents’ property.