A newlywed on her honeymoon almost lost her leg after she was hit by a flaming coconut which was set alight by a stray firework.
Natalie Fitzpatrick, 42, married her partner, Paul, 41, in an intimate beach ceremony in Koh Chang, Thailand.
The couple, from Torquay in the UK, then went island-hopping and were watching a firework display on the beach when firework careered into the crowd.
It hit a coconut drinks display, setting one alight, before it smashed into Ms Fitzpatrick’s leg – breaking her tibia and fibula and setting her dress on fire.
“What was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives ended up turning into the most horrific,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
Her husband and fellow tourists extinguished the flames and bundled the health care assistant on to a nearby sunbed and carried her to the road.
Helpers unsuccessfully tried to load her into a tuk tuk, before she was put on the back of a pick-up truck and rushed to the nearest hospital.
She had to undergo a series of operations, blood transfusions and skin grafts – and had metal bars inserted into her calf which was left with a gaping hole.
After battling an infection, Ms Fitzpatrick, now a mum-of-two, has recovered from the traumatic ordeal which left her and unable to work for two years.
“It all happened so fast. The next thing I know, people are trying to pat out flames as my dress caught alight and my leg is in agony,” she said.
“I really thought I was going to die or that I’d lose my leg.
“I feel so lucky to have survived and I’m relieved it wasn’t my daughter that the coconut hit – otherwise she certainly wouldn’t be here today.”
Prior concerns over safety
The couple got married on Boxing Day in 2012, and with their four-year-old daughter Ezme in tow celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party on Kata beach in Phuket.
But they said an unofficial fireworks display began on the beach which left them feeling “unsafe”.
“People were selling them on the beach and it wasn’t just the small ones you get in Sainsbury’s – it was the big ones you get at displays at the seafront.
“Anyone could buy one and let it off and it was a bit scary.”
Ms Fitzpatrick and her family felt uneasy and they were thinking about heading back to the hotel when disaster struck.
“Someone bought one and let it off and instead of going up into the air it headed straight for me,” she recalled.
Yet her ordeal was to get worse, and she was bed ridden in hospital for two weeks.
“Unfortunately, their interpreter was on holiday for the two weeks whilst I was there so I also had to try and translate what they were saying on my phone,” she said.
“When I woke up in recovery, my arms had been strapped to the bed like a crucifix.
“I got bed sores and my heels turned black as I wasn’t moved properly – as I should have been. I couldn’t get out of bed.
“I was in hospital for just over a fortnight. I had to have a blood transfusion and unit of blood while I was there as I lost so much.
Ms Fitzpatrick’s family wanted to travel to be with her, but due to the busy time of year, they were unable to book flights.
She said her injuries were so severe, their insurance company flew a nurse out from the UK to oversee her treatment.
“Although the bones were mending, I had a hole in my leg where they had cut away the skin,” she revealed.
“You could see right to the metal work in my leg.”
True extent of injuries revealed in the UK
She was eventually flown back to the UK where doctors revealed more worrying news.
Once back in the UK, Ms Fitzpatrick saw a consultant, and surgeons had to remove some of the metal work in her leg to help it heal properly.
“They also took some muscle out of my right leg at the top, inside of my leg and put it in the hole in my lower leg and attached it to my main artery in my heel,” she said.
“I was warned if it didn’t take, they might have to amputate below the knee and I was told that was likely to be the case at three different stages.”
Doctors also found she had contracted an infection.
“I was off work for two years in total as my leg just wasn’t healing,” she said.
Ms Fitzpatrick fell pregnant with her second child during the healing process and had to go to Torbay Hospital to have IV antibiotics every day.
“They said they’d never given anyone IV antibiotics for that length of time whilst being pregnant,” she recalled.
“They said I could have ended up having an amputation.
“I had to worry of not only being pregnant, but also potentially having my leg chopped off.
“A week before I had Orla, my second child in March 2014, I had my the bars and cage removed from my leg.”
Ordeal far from over
Ms Fitzpatrick said she is still recovering from the ordeal six years on.
“I get the odd pain now and again,” she said.
“I’ve only got half the lymph nodes in my leg and have to wear a special stocking to stop the swelling.
“But I think anything is better than not having a leg at all.
“I’ve changed in myself – I’ve got bigger because I can’t move around as much as I used to.
“But I’m just thankful I’m still here and that it wasn’t my head, it was my leg or it wasn’t Ezme, now 10 – she wouldn’t be here if it had hit her.
While she has been through a traumatic time, she admitted the experience has made her stronger as a person, despite her developed fear of loud bangs.
“Whenever firework night comes up, I panic,” she admitted.
“When a loud noise sounds and I’m not ready for it or if I don’t know it’s going to happen I jump out of my skin. I feel like I’ve got PTSD as I suffer from flashbacks too.”
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