Two decades after she was terribly burned in a car fire which killed her sister, Melanie Grimsley, from Fermanagh, tells her inspirational recovery story in a NEW book, writes Suzy Belton
Her mother had popped into a shop to buy milk, leaving Melanie Grimsley and her sister Amanda for just a couple of minutes. No one knows how the car caught fire that day in Enniskillen in April 1988, but Amanda, who was almost three, was killed and Melanie, who had just turned two, was rescued by a passer-by but left with horrific burns.
Now aged 25, Melanie, a mother-of-two, tells how doctors rebuilt her face and hands in her new book Beauty For Ashes -- The Miracle Of Melanie Grimsley.
"As a teenager, on my very first day in a chemist's shop where I was working, a woman came up to the till and asked another assistant -- not in a whisper -- 'What happened to her?'" she recounts. "Another woman jumped as I asked her if she needed any help and she said 'Oh, my God. I thought you were wearing a mask'.
"I don't know if people mean to be rude or if they're just lacking in knowledge. But it really frustrates me that they even think they've a right to make any comment at all.
"Some people assume they have a right to know whatever they want when they see there is something different about me.
"Believe it or not, a man once approached me in Tesco when I was doing my grocery shopping and, out of the blue, asked me if I had been in the Omagh bomb which killed 29 people and unborn twins in August, 1998.
"I told him that I wasn't. But, astonishingly, he wouldn't take no for an answer. 'Are you sure you weren't?' he asked. 'You look like you were,'" Melanie continues. "Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, as the insensitivity of some people never ceases to amaze me.
Melanie married Brian Higgins in 2005 and they have two sons, William (2) and Leo (3).
"It was only after six months of phone calls and text messages that Brian and I actually met face to face," she says. "I felt I'd known him for ever and we'd become firm friends over the phone, but nerves always stopped us from taking the next step.
"I'd told Brian about my burns and I was afraid it would put him off wanting to get to know me better. But that wasn't the case. And I was glad I plucked up enough courage to go through with that meeting. And for once, I ignored my worries and stopped listening to the doubts going around in my head. I took a chance. Brian had told me my burns didn't matter but I found that hard to believe.
"We arranged to meet near Enniskillen Castle beside Lough Erne. And our first meeting after school proved me wrong about Brian and his attitude to my burns. For he really did see me for who I was.
"And it wasn't long before we were meeting up every week. But one of the biggest hurdles lying ahead for me in my relationship with Brian was to let him see me without my hair. I'd no choice but to let him see my face. But my hair was a different story, altogether."
Beauty For Ashes -- The Miracle Of Melanie Grimsley, by Ivan Little and Melanie Grimsley, published by Award Publishing, estimated priced €13.99