A WOMAN has been left scarred for life after fainting onto a heated towel rail, which burnt down to the nerves in her neck in just a minute.
Natalie Gonn endured six years of reconstructive surgery and laser treatments to minimise her scarring from the freak accident, after getting stuck between the toilet and the radiator.
The 33-year-old, from Mill Hill, north-west London, estimates she’s been to hospital more than 400 times for burns-related appointments.
On the morning of her collapse, January 2 2014, Natalie woke with a cold with a slight temperature, but didn’t think much of it as she wanted to get to her busy recruitment job for the NHS.
While getting ready in the bathroom of her family home, Natalie only remembers feeling dizzy and calling for her mum before passing out.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, she said: “I woke up feeling like I had a cold with a slight temperature but dismissed it and thought I could still get to work.
“As I stepped into the bathroom, I remember feeling like I was going to faint and shouting ‘Mum mum!’
“Next thing I knew, I woke up stuck between the heated towel rail and the toilet. I’ve never fainted like that before.”
Natalie’s mum scooped her up and lay her on the bed while her sister Pippa called an ambulance.
Natalie said: “I remember saying ‘I’ve died, I’ve died,’ over and
“I had no idea what had happened. I think I was in shock because I couldn’t feel pain, just a tightness in my neck.”
I remember feeling like I was going to faint – next thing I knew, I woke up stuck between the heated towel rail and the toilet
Luckily, the ambulance came quickly and Natalie was rushed to Barnet General Hospital A&E – with her mum, dad and other sister Micaela by her side.
She said: “At hospital, I don’t think they knew what to do with me. They seemed more concerned about my temperature than the burns.
“I was freezing cold and had to wait ages for a bed, when one finally became available I had no pillow or blanket.
“I found it impossible to get comfortable with the tightness in my neck.
“My burn was bound in cling film by the paramedics and it was three hours before a doctor took a look at the wound.”
When Natalie’s injuries were finally assessed, doctors decided to transfer her to the specialist Chelsea and Westminster Burns Centre.
There, doctors revealed the towel rail had burnt through Natalie’s skin, damaging her nerves and muscle, despite having less than a minute of contact.
They were concerned her neck could swell and affect her breathing.
Natalie said: “The consultant at the burns unit told me I’d need a skin graft as I’d lost so much tissue, but they couldn’t operate until my temperature came down.
“I was still feeling lousy with a virus on top of all the trauma of the accident.
“The nerve damage meant I still couldn’t feel pain. It felt like my neck had a covering on it when it was touched, even if they were prodding my skin directly.”
Natalie was sent home from hospital but had to return to the burns unit for daily dressing changes, so doctors could keep an eye on the wound.
After five days, her temperature returned to normal and Natalie was able to have a full thickness skin raft operation, with healthy tissue taken from her hip.
She said: “The donor site of my skin graft hurt more than my neck, because the nerves were all intact on my hip.”
My scars are a part of me now and I don’t feel embarrassed to show them
Unfortunately, the skin graft was unsuccessful and Natalie had to go under the knife again.
But a second skin graft, from her groin, was a success – thanks to treatment to maximise the blood flow to her neck.
In total, Natalie’s now had 15 operations – a mixture of skin grafts, scar stretching and investigative operations.
She said: “My recovery wasn’t straight forward, the skin around my scar was too tight and I had to have an inflatable expander fitted in my shoulder to stretch the skin.
“That was the hardest time for me. With this huge lump under my skin, I looked so strange and had a lot of stares.
“In the years since my accident I’ve also had laser treatments, Botox and steroid injections to try and lessen the lumpiness of my scars.”
It took three years for the feeling to return to Natalie’s neck.
She said: “When the sensation returned to my skin, it was really bizarre. I felt so sensitive, like I could feel absolutely everything.
“Now I have a daily tingling sensation and still suffer with tightness. I think I always will, just because of the nature of the skin on your neck and how often you use the skin and muscles there.”
What to do if you get burnt
It’s important to treat burns as soon as possible. Firstly, remove them from the heat source.
Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burn, including babies’ nappies, but do not try to remove anything which is stuck to the burnt skin.
Cool the burn with cool water for 20 minutes. Never use ice, iced water, creams or greasy substances.
Keep the person warm with a blanket/layers of clothing, avoiding the injured area, to prevent hypothermia.
Cover the burn with cling film or a clear plastic bag if it’s on your hand.
If the burn is bigger than your hand, has caused white or charred skin, or has caused blisters on your face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals, go to A&E.
Natalie has worked hard to rebuild her life. She got married to husband Jonatan, 34, in 2018 and fell pregnant soon after with son Loui, seven months.
She’s currently on maternity leave from her job as a programme manager for the NHS.
Natalie said: “My pregnancy affected my scars, making them more red and pronounced because of hormones. But they are a part of me now and I don’t feel embarrassed to show them.
“I am still under the care of the burns unit even now almost six years after the accident.
“When I am finished having children. I will look into more operations and treatments to minimise the lumps and tightness in my scar.
“My husband is wonderfully supportive and encourages me by saying that I am beautiful as I am, but if they can be improved I’d like to try.
“I used to be the sort of woman who worried about going out with a spot on my face, so my accident and recovery has really been a test of self-acceptance.
“Now I think I am more confident in my appearance than I ever was before.
“I am also a massive supporter of the NHS, I love working for them and being a part of this huge machine that loves and cares for so many patients.
“Throughout all my treatments, my nurses and colleagues have been so wonderful to me. I want to give thanks to them in any way I can.”