The West

Burns survivors find hope
New friends: Burns survivors, from left, Amanda Roach, Peter Hughes, Robert North, Grazi Lisciotto and Kate Sanderson. Picture: Lincoln Baker/ The West Australian.

Their ages, backgrounds and horror stories vary widely but this group of Australians share a strength of character that even fire could not destroy.

Most of them were strangers last week but this weekend in Scarborough, friendships will be forged as they are united by their physical and mental scars.

Peter Hughes Burn Foundation founder, Bali bombings survivor Peter Hughes, has hosted "living skills enhancement retreats" for nearly a decade.

They give burns survivors a chance to build a support network and have a bit of fun.

"At the end of these retreats, they're different people," he said. "They're not alone any more and they feel like there's a sense of purpose going forward."

Until Monday, Westminster 27-year-old Robert North did not realise there were other people in WA with extensive burns.

The magazine vendor suffered third-degree burns to 95 per cent of his body after accidentally setting his bedroom on fire as a four-year-old.

Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he put his chin up, went to school and got a job.

"I'd rather get out and work than sit at home," he said. "Sitting at home and doing nothing reminds of all the other stuff and I don't want to be like that.

"I'd say the physical things have been the hardest, but where there's a will, there's a way." Mr North plans to speak to primary school students about the dangers of playing with fire but, for now, he is happy to finally meet other burns survivors.

While Mr North has lived with his scars all his life, Melbourne's Kate Sanderson endured her ordeal at the 2011 Kimberley Ultramarathon.

As flames raced up a hill towards her, the 38-year-old poured water over her head and covered her face with her hands.

"I get my fingers fused straight on Thursday," she said. "They're locked in position right now because I've got no tendons."

Ms Sanderson will be joined at the retreat by fellow first-timer Amanda Roach, from Newcastle.

Robert North and Grazi Lisciotto (left) are attending The Peter Hughes Foundation weekend retreat. Picture: Lincoln Baker/ The West Australian
Ms Roach, 30, slipped while carrying a pot of boiling water at her family's restaurant, sustaining third-degree burns to almost 20 per cent of her body.

"It was an accident that could have been easily avoided, but it has happened and I've got to move on," she said. "Maybe this is what I need."

The scars that cover 67 per cent of 52-year-old Grazi Lisciotti's were self-inflicted. After a long battle with depression, the Cannington father-of-four used petrol to set himself on fire in 2003.

He said his first burns retreat, many years ago, was a life-changing experience.

"The doctors kept me alive, but these people taught me how to live again," he said.

Physical things have been the hardest, but where there's a will, there's a way. " Burns survivor *Robert North *

The West Australian

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