When Tonii Gardner was chopping up cucumber for a BBQ she couldn’t believe it when she looked out the window and saw her partner Philip Hodge running around the garden like a human fireball….
Looking out the kitchen window I watched the kids playing happily in the sunshine.
It was such a nice day for May, we had to make the most of it.
“Let’s invite people round and have a BBQ,” I shouted up to my partner Philip, 32.
It would be a great excuse for me not to cook for the kids and make the most of the early summer weather.
As I chopped up the cucumber and tomatoes for a salad, Philip asked the kids what they thought about having a BBQ.
“Yeah, burgers!” they all shouted in chorus, excitingly jumping around.
‘That was the go ahead from the kids then,’ joked Philip.
“I’m just going to freshen up a bit, I feel really hot and sweaty,” he added.
As he went upstairs to the bathroom to spray some deodorant on, I carried on watching the kids, Tommy 9, Tanya 7, Reece, 5 and Sasha, 3 playing and laughing in the garden.
Jackus, 12, was off playing in the woods with his mates as usual, but I knew the smell of the BBQ would bring him racing home.
Philip went out to get the BBQ started as I got all the burgers and sausages ready on a plate to pop on the flames before people arrived.
Organising all the meat and buns, I thought how lucky I was to have such a happy family. I couldn’t wait for me and Philip to save enough money to get married.
Suddenly my daydreaming was cut short and I was snapped back into reality by blood-curdling screaming.
I had never heard the kids scream like that before.
Dropping the plates and rushing outside all I could see was a giant ball of flames running towards me.
Oh my god I though, it was Philip, his whole body raging with bright orange flames.
He was trying frantically to put himself out, but the garden had no grass to roll on.
Rushing to the wall he tried to roll against that but he was still a bright, human fireball.
“Get well away from him!” I screamed at the kids.
Grabbing the garden hose I rushed towards him and started dousing him, head to toe in freezing cold water.
Suddenly a neighbour came rushing into the back garden, he had heard the kids screaming and knew that something must be seriously wrong.
He grabbed the kids and took them straight to the park round the corner to try and calm them down.
The sight of their dad on fire was something they weren’t going to forget in a hurry.
Frantically dialling 999 my hand was shaking as I spoke to the operator.
“I need an ambulance now, my partner has set himself on fire!” I screeched down the phone.
The woman on the end of the line told me that the ambulance couldn’t get there for twenty-five minutes.
I couldn’t believe it, Philip was curled up in a ball on the floor after turning himself into a human Olympic torch and he had to wait half-an-hour for help!
“Stop spraying water on me, I’m freezing Toni, please stop,” he yelled at me.
I couldn’t believe it, his whole torso had been on fire and he hadn’t screamed at all, yet he was screaming about me spraying him with freezing water.
I told him that he had to grin and bear it until the ambulance crew reached us.
It seemed like a life-time had passed but eventually the ambulance crew arrived.
They wrapped Philip in blankets as I just stood back and watched the love of my life lying helplessly on the ground in the foetal position.
The crew tried to get a helicopter to take Philip to hospital as quickly as possible but because they had taken thirty minutes to arrive, the helicopters had stopped working for the evening.
They tried to help Philip get to the ambulance but he insisted he was fine to walk himself.
My brave man walked himself to the ambulance, refusing any help from the ambulance workers, after the most gruelling hour of our lives.
I jumped in beside him and grabbed his hand, the fear started to set in the both of us.
For the first time Philip looked petrified.
You could smell the stench of burning flesh and singed hair, I had never smelt anything like it.
The crew sat him down and cut his clothes off him – they had melted onto his skin.
He was given gas until he was knocked unconscious.
Sitting in the family room I was violently shaking. I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘what if’.
What if he didn’t make it? How would I explain that to his beloved children? How am I going to cope with out him? How am I going to tell his parents?
Ringing Philip’s father, Alan I explained what had happened and that Philip had been moved to Swansea Hospital.
They rushed down there and stayed with him day and night.
The fact that they were with him put my mind slightly at ease, knowing he wasn’t alone.
Staying with the kids I had to just keep everything together.
I couldn’t cry in front of them or let them see I was scared for their dad.
But when they went to bed I broke down in tears, I just wanted to know he was going to be ok.
He had been unconscious and on a life support machine for two weeks, when was he going to wake up?
Sasha was such a Daddy’s girl and refused to go to sleep until she knew that he was alright.
I had to ring Alan every night and get him to tell Sasha that her Daddy was going to be ok.
He normally put her to bed and tucked her up every night and she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t there anymore.
Philip finally regained consciousness after three weeks but had to endure more traumas after he had suffered from 30% burns and needed loads of skin grafts.
He had skin taken from his stomach and put on his left leg, neck, inside of his right arm and his left arm.
After his operations he looked like he had just stepped out the ring with Mike Tyson.
They sliced down both of his arms to release the pressure on the skin because the burns were so deep the skin was too tight to move.
I was so ecstatic to have him home after a month of waiting.
The hardest thing was trying to stop the kids jumping all over him, they adored Philip so much and just wanted to hug him.
At first they didn’t understand why his skin looked and felt like reptile skin but they soon got used to it.
Philip has days where he can’t even bear to get out of bed in the morning because he is in so much pain.
He has a long way to go but his psycho therapy and determination has helped him down the road to recovery.
It could take up to three years for Philip to be back to normal again but he is always going to be in pain and has lost the ability to hear through his left ear.
But hugging his little girl, Sasha for the first time since the accident has given him the strength to carry on and once my brave man is completely recovered we hope to get married.
Philip said: “I wouldn’t have been able to get through all of this pain without Tonii. She has kept me going on the really bad days and just being able to hug the kids again gives me the courage to carry on fighting.
“I know the pain will never stop but having my family beside me gives me the determination to get better.
Once I am finally better I will make Tonii my wife. After going through something like this, it really makes you appreciate the important things in life and that is my family.”