September 2019

The scars on my body make me a star and tell a story. At the age of 14, I was in an accidental house fire and I had to jump out the fourth floor window, still on fire, to escape. I was admitted to Chelmsford Hospital Burns Unit with 33%, third degree burns to my skin, mainly on my upper body. For few weeks I was on a life support machine, and when I woke up, I couldn’t remember a lot of what had happened. The pain was so intense I was unable to sleep and I spent almost six months in hospital.

As luck would have it, there was no mirror near the hospital bed so I couldn’t see the extent of the burns to my skin. One day, about two months into my stay at the hospital, I was taken to the bathroom by one of the nurses so I could have a shower. Upon arrival, she sat me down, cut the bandages to my arms and for the very first time I saw the extent of the wounds to my skin. I was shocked and at the same time fearful for my future and my dreams. My mum held me by the shoulder and reassured me that she would do everything in her power to help improve my situation. I realised that I had undergone skin grafts – the skin on my thigh and legs had been removed by the surgeon to cover the burns to my arms and hands.

After six months I finally left the hospital, but the never-ending battle had only just begun. Luckily my family were extremely supportive – my brother and sisters took turns to bathe, moisturise and feed me. They helped me into a special pressure garment to cover and repair the burnt skin. My mum bought special creams for my skin and soothing yoghurts to drink, whilst seeking advice from professionals on how best to care for me. My mother tried her best and my family cared for me throughout.

The accident happened just six months after I moved to the UK from western Nigeria, so I didn’t really have any close friends yet. The scars affected how I socialised as I was so self-conscious of my skin. A lot of sad things crossed my mind in this period of my life… Would I ever be loved? Would I get married? Could I still achieve my dream of becoming a doctor? I felt as though I was no longer worthy.

During the summer I was reluctant to go outside as the weather made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. If I forced myself to go out then I would wear big turtleneck jumpers that my mum bought me and hide underneath them. I had always been a ‘big boy’ compared to my peers and I felt like an outcast, unworthy of having good things in my life.

During school I often focused my thoughts on what people thought of me and my skin, rather than listening to the teacher. My confidence was at an all-time low and I experienced bullying due to my appearance and African accent. As a result I failed my GCSE’s three times and didn’t start a paid job until I was 25 years old, struggling with work ethics due to my lack of experience.

Years later, recovery came in the form of exercise. Exercise played a major part in building confidence and relationships. Once I started going to the gym I felt able to expose my scars in public. I became the gentle giant of the gym, affectionately known as ‘Scars’ amongst my gym buddies in Hackney.

I also found that talking and writing about my experience was very therapeutic, which is why I have chosen to share my story on the British Skin Foundation blog. In the past I was privileged to share my story in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

My own story has motivated me to try and make a positive difference in the lives of others and I am now proud to say that I’m a qualified social worker, counsellor and founder of Scars 2 Stars initiative. Scars 2 Stars aims to empower those living with scars on their body and help them to realise they can achieve their dreams no matter what.

Deji Yusuf

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