Much like gold, Chinenye Desire Benjamin had to pass through fire- literally- to get the best version of her.
About a year ago the aspiring model, then 21; had woken up to get ready for what would have been another regular day at work but fate had other plans.
A strike of a matchstick and a ‘boom’ later, Desire found herself struggling for dear life in the middle of a gas explosion and resultant fire that was threatening to consume her.
The explosion had forcefully shut the kitchen door – her only exit from the fire. She miraculously got the door open and ran out screaming for help as the fire flames engulfed her from head to toe.
Her family members who had been asleep when the explosion happened jumped out of bed and amidst the chaos, did the first logical thing that came to mind: grabbed a few buckets of water from the bathroom and threw on her. They succeeded in quenching the fire, but by this time, Chinenye was so badly burnt and had passed out.
The first hospital they took her to refused to offer any treatment at all. Not because they didn’t want to but because they simply felt there was no point. She was as good as gone- a smouldering remainder of the bubbly girl that Desire had been.
What they didn’t know was that beneath the very bloated and badly charred body was a fighting spirit that the fire couldn’t touch. To their utmost surprise, she lived until the next day, forcing the doctors to rethink their earlier decision not to touch her.
“They thought, ok, ‘if she could survive the first day, maybe she can still make it’,” Desire recalls.
It was then that the treatments started. She was subsequently moved to a better equipped hospital where she spent three months in excruciating pain recovering and watching her new friends in the hospital ward die one after the other.
‘I had a friend in the hospital that we used to pray together. One night, her line went flat (ie the electrocardiogram which monitored her heart beat pinged off, signifying that she had stopped breathing).’ Another pointer that the very next second wasn’t guaranteed- she too could simply stop breathing at anytime.
But she didn’t.
She endured the pain, sometimes bursting into maniacal laughter from excessive pain that her brain could not properly process. Eventually, by some sort of miracle, the burns healed enough for her to start learning how to walk again before being certified fit to leave the hospital.
It was after she was discharged that the true reality of what happened to her fully dawned on her. Having strangers walk up to her at the mall and tell her to cover up because her scars were “unsightly”, and not being able to go back to work because she felt people will concentrate on her scars more than they would the product she was trying to sell was a constant occurrence and she found herself having to stay indoors for long hours- her slowly healing skin was in danger of itching and getting infected if she was ever in a humid environment anyway.
For most 21-year-olds, this harrowing experience would have broken them completely, but not Chinenye. While she admitted that she had suicidal thoughts at some point, she was more appreciative of her miraculous survival and wasn’t going to let stares and mean comments bully her into locking herself away.
“That can’t be me,” she insisted. “I can’t sit in the house because people are not comfortable with how I am. The scars on my body are a sign of victory. I overcame what tried to consume me and I should be proud of it.”
And her plans for the future? To reach out to as many people as she can. “Some people have scars even if not physically, they have emotional scars. If I’m able to reach out to them, encourage them and try to help them gain back their confidence in anyway that I can, I believe that would be fine.”
Desire turns 23 in a couple of weeks and for her, the light at the end of the tunnel burns far brighter than the fire that tried to consume her.
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