A young woman who suffered 96 per cent burns in a horror coach crash which almost claimed her life has been awarded a seven-figure settlement.
Catrin Pugh, 22, is believed to be the oldest person in the world to survive such severe burns which ravaged every inch of her body apart from her scalp and the soles of her feet.
She spent three months in an induced coma and has undergone more than 200 operations.
In a cruel twist, the trauma to her body also caused permanent damage to her optic nerve, which has left her with no central vision, the part of the eye that allows us to see straight ahead.
Catrin, then just 19, was returning from a ski season in the French Alps in April 2013 when the coach she was travelling in crashed and burst into flames, killing the driver and injuring dozens of passengers.
She was pulled from the wreckage, but was so badly injured that medics gave her just a one in 1,000 chance of survival.
She said: “I remember being on fire. It’s a feeling that’s very difficult to describe. You just feel very numb everywhere and I have since learned that’s because it had burned through my nerve endings.
“It was like a scene from a horror film. I thought I was going to die. I remember them asking me where it hurt the most and me screaming ‘it hurts everywhere.’”
Catrin, from Rossett in Wrexham, spent the first few days being treated in France before being transferred to the specialist burns unit at Whiston Hospital, Merseyside, where she stayed for the next eight months.
Parents Sara and Carl and siblings Robert and Mari kept a bedside vigil. Sara and Robert also donated skin from their own bodies so it could be grafted on to hers.
Catrin had to learn to walk again and still struggles to grip things because of the injury to her hands. Due to problems with her sweat glands, she has to avoid hot weather in case she overheats and passes out.
She also suffers from PTSD and has regular flashbacks to the crash, but says losing her eyesight has been the most devastating blow.
“My eyes didn’t get burned, but because I was so ill and nearly lost my life on a number of occasions, it caused my optic nerve to get damaged. It wasn’t a result of the fire, it was a result of the whole ordeal.
“I have been left with no central vision and that’s what you use to see detail. I can’t see people’s faces. I will walk into a bar and I won’t be able to see my friends until I’m a foot away from them.
“I can’t drive, I can’t watch TV or see the screen on my laptop. Thankfully, I live in a time where there are lots of gadgets to help me, but unfortunately it’s not something that can be corrected.”
Joanne Berry, a travel law specialist at Slater and Gordon, who represented Catrin in a legal action against the coach operator, added: “Catrin is, without doubt, one of the bravest and most inspirational individuals I have met.
“Nothing can make up for what she has been and continues to go through, but what this settlement can do is pay for the care she needs and make things easier in the future.”
Although she admits to having ‘down days’, Catrin says the accident has taught her that life is too short and she now hopes to use her experiences to help others embrace their scars.
A visit from Katie Piper, the former model left scarred for life after sulphuric acid was thrown in her face, inspired her and she is now an ambassador for the Katie Piper Foundation. She is also an ambassador for the Changing Faces charity and a patron of the British Association of Skin Camouflage.
She said: “I used to hate it and question why it had happened to me. For five months after waking up from the coma I cried every day. But I always say one of the reasons I got through it, aside from my family and the fantastic team at Whiston, was my positivity.
“It could have been much worse. I could have lost my hands or had no function in them at all. I could have completely lost my sight.
“I can walk now, but not barefoot. I’ve got no padding so it feels like I’m walking on bones, but the fact that I can walk at all is amazing in itself.
“When I first came out of hospital I was really self-conscious, but over the past three years because of everything I’ve been through I’ve realised there is so much more to life.
“Now I go out with my scars out and I don’t care if people stare at me.
“I would still love to travel, I would still love to go to university. It would be slightly more difficult now, but it won’t stop me. If I put my mind to something I will do it and that has not changed.”