Rising Above the Scars

1

As she turned the valve, a booming sound

ensued and the force of the blast threw her
from the kitchen to the living room. In that
moment of fear, panic and confusion, fireball
consumed her favourite chandelier and
razed the roof. Life dealt Yinka Matthews a
fatal blow when a gas explosion ravaged her
apartment leaving her with scars. Vanessa
Obioha captures the episodes of Matthews’
traumatic tale and the miraculous ending

 

The day began like any other day for Yinka Matthews. She was in a joyous mood. A client had paid her handsomely for a job the previous day. Waking up to the beautiful morning rays that Saturday morning, Matthews, an interior designer had had her day planned. First, she was going to change the tyres of her Benz car, then treat herself to a sumptuous meal before heading for the salon later to get her hair and nails done.

Everything went on as planned until the sun began its journey back home.Matthews was already back at her delicately furnished apartment in Balogun Street, Alausa Lagos. The building was owned by her father. Usually, she spends her Saturdays evenings preparing for church on Sundays. With her hair still in
rollers, Matthews busied herself with the
outfit to wear to church the next day. It was while carrying out this routine that she felt her stomach protesting for food.

At first, she ignored it, but when the growling got intense, she walked to the kitchen to fix a quick meal. A strong smell of leaking gas hit her nostrils the moment she stepped into the kitchen that further churned her gut. Surprised that she had left the automatic gas stove cylinder on, she quickly turned it off, before heading back to her chores, determined to ignore the biting hunger.

But 40 minutes later, her stomach felt like it was being dug out. She knew then that she really had to eat something. Walking back into the kitchen, she sniffed around, ensuring that the gas was no longer smelling. Satisfied that the environment was safe, Matthews reached
for the gas cylinder, unknown to her that the gas concentration has increased from
an undetected leak.

As she slightly turned the valve, the next thing she heard was a booming sound that threw her from the kitchen to her living room. It all happened so fast that at first, her mind couldn’t fathom the fiery image unfolding before her. In that moment of fear, panic and confusion, Matthews watched the sparkling
chandelier that once adorned the ceiling of her living room consumed by the raging fire, the roof following suit.

With her body also on fire, Matthews threw away the burning piece of wrapper she had on and managed to make it to the bathroom where she poured a bucket of water on her body. Yet, her body was on fire.

Outside, neighbours gathered, shouting and calling for help from no one in particular. Some carried buckets of water, others soapy water, pouring all in the red fiery flames. On seeing
the burning apartment, her father collapsed, thinking his precious daughter was already burnt alive. The whole neighborhood was in chaos.

It was in that chaotic ambience that Matthews emerged from the inferno naked and crying for help. The mixed cry of joy and despair saw everyone pouring all manner of liquids on her to douse the fire before she finally slipped into
unconsciousness.

That day was June 8, 2013.

“I will never forget that day,” Matthews said. ‘“The memory is still very fresh in my mind.”

Before the Accident
Anyone who knew Matthews before the incident attested to her spontaneity. An indigene of Oyo State, Matthews was the only daughter of her mother and had no worries. She had a good job, lived in a good apartment – life was beautiful.

Her bubbly infectious aura and stylish personality endeared her to many. Need a companion for a six-hour road trip? Matthews was the best candidate. Need to party all night long till your feet hurt? Call on Matthews. She was literally the life of every party. Once she dabbled into acting, playing a minor role in Chico Ejiro’s ‘Sunset in Africa’. But everything changed after the gas explosion.

Trauma and Betrayal
When Matthews finally woke up later that evening, it was to a painful reality. She had sustained second and third degree burns according to the medical report from Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in Ikeja where she was first taken to.

“I didn’t understand what was going on. My body began swelling. I was just in pains. The doctors gave me an injection which finally calmed me down.”

She was later referred to the hospital unit in Gbagada which specialises in burns.The first two days were a living hell for Matthews; she couldn’t sleep or do anything. Her whole body was in pain so also was her heart. Each time she looked at her scarred skin, her heart bled. It took her awhile to gather the courage to look at a mirror. When she finally did, she was devastated by what she saw. Her face was a mask of scars, her legs, fingers and some parts of her body were scarred.

“I asked the doctor calmly to give me an injection that will put me to death that I couldn’t live like this.”

A therapist was sent to counsel her. But the kind words did nothing to lift her spirits.

“I remember the therapist telling me that I should be grateful that I’m alive, that I will only have scars. But how do I start living with a scar for the rest of my life.”

Matthews spent almost seven weeks in the hospital. At a point, she left the hospital to go home to watch a basketball game.

“Everybody thought I was insane but I needed that break to regain my confidence. The doctor made me sign that I would return immediately which I did. Luckily, my team won,” she recalled heartily.

During those days in the hospital, her mother never left her side. Only few friends visited her. And they never returned after the first visit.

“The people I counted on…” she paused between sentences as she recalled how her friends rejected her.

“They said I was burnt; I was scarred for life. The people that I trusted the most, that they will have my back, they mocked me. Who mocks a burns victim? Even someone I dated abandoned me. My friends all left. I was told that some said they couldn’t come because after visiting me, they were unable to eat
– that I was too disgusting. I actually overheard a friend on the phone saying I
was too disgusting to look at.

“I lost everything in that fire. I almost lost my well-being. People don’t understand the traumatic experience fire victims go
through.”

Regaining her composure, she continued: “When I returned from the hospital, I couldn’t live in that house. My flat was the only flat affected in the incident. Though I got it renovated, I just couldn’t live there. Each time I slept, I could hear the explosive sound. It was like reliving that horrible incident. I was so traumatized. I couldn’t even go to the kitchen. Three weeks later, I moved out.”

The emotional battle continued for
Matthews. She couldn’t leave the house
for fear that people will mock her. Actually,
they did.

“When I moved out, people were staring at me. When I went to the mall, they continued staring me, mostly in disgust. Some would stop me and asked what happened to me. Sometimes, out of genuine concern; other times out of curiosity.”

 

For four years, the only places she went to was to work and church. Her social life was
completely erased.

“I was unable to be intimate. I don’t want anyone to touch me for fear that my skin will peel. Burns is so unbearable. You can’t eat, you can’t bathe, and you stink.”

That same year, she visited the Redeemed Church of God camp and prayed to God to heal her scars. All she got was silence. But her faith never wavered. It was in that moment of need that she drew closer to God. She prayed, fasted, read her Bible, hopeful that one day, a miracle would knock on her door. She summoned courage to start her own interior decoration business.

Two years later, her father died, her mother had to join her brothers in the UK. However, they never stopped caring for her. Her brothers introduced a dermatologist to her who advised her to stay away from sunlight for a year and gave her a new nutrition plan.

“I ate 10 boiled eggs per day, took vegetables a lot. Then she prescribed shea butter, diprobase cream, special soap and other items. They were very expensive.”

Despite her pecuniary challenges, Matthews obeyed every word of her dermatologist to a T, while still clinging to God that something divine would happen.

Then It Happened
Late 2015, Matthews started noticing some of the scars disappearing but she didn’t really pay attention to it.

“The first day I noticed I didn’t have a scar, it was like a miracle. I had just finished bathing and I looked at my legs because they were more affected, there were no scars. I couldn’t believe it. I ran back to the hospital. I showed myself to the doctors. They couldn’t believe that I was healed. They asked what I used because they couldn’t understand. The last scar I saw was in 2017.”

Like the doctors, most people didn’t believe that she was totally healed, such that when she took the boldness to post a picture of herself before and after her burns on Instagram last April, people were awed.

“People thought it was make-up, but it wasn’t. Today, I don’t have one scar on my body.”

With a new lease of life, Matthews is determined to make the most use of it. She started a foundation named, Yinky Care, which she hopes will help other fire victims.

“Burns victims are stigmatized because of the scars. The emotional scar is lingering and I just had to share my story to help people being stigmatized and struggling to live with burns.”

On April 7, she will hold her first seminar and plans to give out some of the medication that helped her through her long journey to healing.

“We will be giving out creams, souvenirs. There will be doctors from LASUTH who helped me with my healing to speak to burn survivors. There is also an expert to speak on preventive methods to keep us safer, because most of these gas explosions are avoidable.”

Overcoming this battle has taught Matthews a few lessons. One of them is cherishing the gift of life.

“Life can be cruel but the miracle is surviving. This life is a gift and it’s for the living. I don’t worry about petty things anymore. If it’s not
bringing me joy and glorifying God, it’s not even worth the stress. Life is too short to be wasted on silly things. I’m more purpose-driven now, helping others and being a genuinely good person,” she
acknowledged.