Thursday 22 March 2018

Trauma of mum after she was engulfed in flames at family barbecue

Joanne McMahon spent over a month in a coma and 131 days in hospital after horror inferno

Joanne McMahon who sustained serious burns when she was lighting a Bain Marie; with husband Mike. Pic: Press 22
Joanne McMahon who sustained serious burns when she was lighting a Bain Marie; with husband Mike. Pic: Press 22

David Raleigh

A mother who was engulfed in flames while lighting a Bain-Marie has begun a campaign to raise funds for the National Burns Unit in Dublin where she received life-saving treatment.

Joanne McMahon, a qualified nurse from Castlemahon, Co Limerick, didn't realise there was an open flame on the Bain-Marie (a type of heated bath used in cooking) when she threw methylated spirits onto it on May 30, 2014.

The accident at Joanne's home took place at a family gathering to celebrate one of her children's confirmations.

The front of her body, including her face, neck and hands, were engulfed in a ball of fire.

The mother-of-five was initially airlifted from her home to Cork University Hospital, and then transferred to the National Burns Unit at St James's Hospital, where she spent a month in an induced coma, and a total of 131 days re-learning how to walk and swallow.

"I went to sleep in Cork on the 30th of May and I woke up in Dublin on the 8th of July," Ms McMahon said, speaking in her first interview since the horrific accident 18 months ago.

Her husband Mike, who had been at work at the time of the accident, recalled how he was asked to get home quickly.

"I didn't expect to see what I saw when I got out there. Joanne was on the lawn and they had towels around her.

"Dr John Leonard (local GP) was with her and the emergency services arrived and kicked into gear. They were just wonderful.

"I didn't know what to do or what to think."

Joanne said the day of the accident had initially been a "a great day".

"I remember having a great day... My daughter was after coming in with her yearbook from study and we were after going through the book, and we decided we'd start the food," she said.

"I have a little Bain Marie, a portable one, and I have a little stainless steel container that goes in under it to keep the water hot, to heat the food. I have it for years.

"And for years what I would do is put a bit of methylated spirits into it, light it and put it in underneath.

"On the day I did the same thing as always.

"The sun was just glorious that day and we had a little marquee up at the back of the house, and I didn't see that the sun camouflaged the sight of the flame and I didn't realise it had been lit," she continued.

"I came along with my bottle of methylated spirits and poured it in on top of a lighting flame that I wasn't aware (was lit).

"So, it (the ball of flames) was instant.

"I remember somebody said 'what do we do', and I said 'roll', and I can remember rolling (on the ground).

"The next thing I was on the lawn. I'm told I walked to the lawn. I was fading in and out of consciousness."

When Mike told her she had been asleep for four and a half weeks it didn't sink in initially.

"I remember Mike telling me this, and it sounded very vague at the time, but I suppose I was so weak at that stage, and I wouldn't have been able to move, and I was still ventilated.

"In the early days it would go over my head even though I had been told, but I'd still think it was the old me in the (hospital) bed and that I was grand."

"Yes, definitely, looking back on it, it was serious, but it was the care and treatment, and the prayers that got me through," Joanne said.

Remaining remarkably positive despite her injuries, she said: "It's here and I just have to get on with it."

"People might say that I could be negative but I'm not, I just get on with everyday life. There's nothing to do but just get on with it, I don't have a choice."

Joanne has undergone several operations since the incident.

She said: "I still go to Joanne and Michelle the Occupational Therapist and the physio in St James's every week. At home I have physio three days a week.

"I suppose going forward it's (more) surgeries and see what they can improve.

Taking each day as it comes, Joanne added: "The scar bands on my neck would be the next thing to try and release, they have done bits on my hands already. After that I don't ask to far ahead."

"The doctors advise and I agree and they know what they are doing."

Mike said while what happened to his wife was an unavoidable accident he warned others when lighting Bain Marie heaters: "Just be aware and be safe with these things."

Joanne added: "In any walk of life, everything we do in life, (people should) just think.

"Honestly, I have often thought about what I did, (but) it was an accident. I don't think (I) could have been any more careful.

"I don't think there is anything we could have done different if we were starting out again - obviously if we knew it was going to be alight - but actually, it was a total total accident.

"If I said, 'how could I have been so stupid to do that', but I wouldn't even say that - I had done it hundreds of times.," Joanne said.

Thankful to be alive, Ms McMahon alongside her husband Mike, and long life friend Liam Woulfe, have set up the Joanne McMahon Thanksgiving Fund.

"My ultimate aim is to give back to the burns unit. I wasn't familiar with the burns unit until I ended up there myself. Their care from the early acute stage to now and through to rehabilitation has been outstanding," she said.

Ms McMahon who faces further surgeries and ongoing physiotherapy added: "We would just like to help the unit, so that for other people in the future - like myself who never expected to end up there - will continue to get the most advanced care available."

Her husband Mike, said the burns unit staff gave him "a shoulder to lean on".

"They were very compassionate to me when Joanne went in there. She was in a coma and the staff were very understanding - but they are to any family that goes in there with a loved one who is seriously ill," he added.

The couple also thanked their extended family, neighbours and friends, as well as schools in Castlemahon and Newcastle West, for helping to support their five children while Ms McMahon was receiving critical hospital care.

The fundraising drive will be launched next Monday night at 8pm in Castlemahon community hall, and will culminate 131 days later - representing Ms McMahon's period of full time hospital care - with a walk, run and a cycle in Castlemahon on April 17th.

To donate online visit:

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