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ELSA BERNON

Elsa opted not to wear make up for her shoot believing there’s no shame in her scars and in who she is.She was photographed wearing a gold neckpiece of flowers which represents her growth and femininity and it covered her body much like the scars from her burns. Her image is fierce and strong – just as she is – andthere’s great power in this portrait. Power that comes from the fact that Elsa has accepted her scars and they no longer haunt her.

  “What was meant for evil, God uses for good.”

  “What Satan intended to harm me, God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the

saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

  Elsa is an industrial psychologist who lives in Linden in JHB.

  She suffered third degree burns to 80% of her body when she was just two years old.

  The accident happened when her dad threw petrol on a braai to get it going and the flames jumped out and consumed him. He screamed to Elsa’s then four year old brother to hold her tight – knowing she would runto his aid. A determined and feisty little girl, Elsa bit him hard to get to her dad and escaped her brother’s hold. The inevitable happened and Elsa’s dress caught light and she too was engulfed in flames.

  Elsa and her dad were rushed to hospital – a painful 45 minute journey from Zululand to a hospital in Empangeni (a nearby town) where she was stabilised and kept for the night. The next day they were taken to a specialist hospital in PMB for further treatment and recovery.

  When she was in the hospital in Empangeni her life hung in the balance and as her organs all began to shut down – it didn’t look like she would pull through. She remained in a coma for a while and it was believed she would lose her sight as a result of the burns. But a dedicated medical team and the prayers and support of friends and family carried her through and she left the hospital three months later with her sight intact.

  Since then she has had too many surgeries to count and many of her childhood memories are of painful debridement and hospital stays. It was a hugely traumatic time for one so young and impacted her life in unimaginable ways.

  Elsa doesn’t remember the pain – believing the body shuts down and blocks memories that traumatic – but she has flashbacks of her time in hospital adding she remembers feeling very special because of all the extra attention and toys she received.

  From age six Elsa began having operations and she compares her body to a patch work quilt adding she had to have 100 stiches around her lips after a particular surgery. After each surgery she had to wear pressure garments and to this day she has a real aversion to tight clothes.

  Elsa doesn’t remember looking any other way – this has always been her reality – at least for as long as she can remember and at times she forgets she appears different to those around her.

  The experience brought her family closer together and to God although it put enormous strain on her parents and their marriage. That and the fact that her sister developed a brain tumor at age six.

  Elsa believes that her experience has made her more discerning and she has developed great empathy for others. She has also realised that when she is relaxed and confident around new people that she meets, then they are inclined to feel relaxed and natural around her.

  Thinking back to her childhood Elsa does recall a painful experience where little girls at a party started screaming and ran away from her when she arrived; needless to say she and her mom left immediately. But this was definitely not the norm, the community that she lived in was hugely supportive and later on in life she made wonderful friends who loved her as she is.

  Elsa has found peace and accepts herself as she is and won’t allow others to determine her value as ahuman being. As a person she has triumphed over huge emotional pain but she still finds rejection painful to bear. She has a full and meaningful life and a successful career. She loves nature especially trees – a symbol of stability and wisdom. God has sustained her and carried her through the valley of darkness while family and friends have been a pillar of strength.

  Her message to those sitting with pain is, “Seek spiritual counsel and consider your purpose in life so as toput the hard times into perspective. God can turn your greatest pain into your greatest strength and when that happens - you can begin to help others.”