Three years have almost gone by since Courtney Waldon suffered third and fourth-degree burns over her entire body due to a campfire accident at her home in Georgia. But now, she admits, life couldn’t be better.
“I am so blessed,” Waldon told PEOPLE. “God has done so many good things for me.”
On Sept. 30, 2016, Waldon was on top of the world and everything was going her way. She put her daughter Caroline, 5-years-old at the time, in bed at their Tallapoosa home before joining her husband around a backyard campfire celebrating their two-month wedding anniversary. The couple was sitting by the fire cooking tuna steak and asparagus when her husband attempted to put a can of gas on the fire to relight it when some of the oil splashed onto Waldon.
Suddenly she was engulfed in flames.
“I stopped, dropped and rolled while screaming bloody murder. It was horrible…. I honestly thought I was dying that night,” she told PEOPLE back in 2017. “It was the most painful feeling in the world.”
When paramedics responded to her husband’s 911 call, Waldon was unrecognizable: Fourth-degree burns had ravaged her face and third-degree burns left her hands, legs and feet mangled. She would spend the next 51 days in a hospital with most of the days in a medically induced coma inside intensive care.
Then things took an even darker turn. Waldon’s husband left her and Caroline.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I begged for him to come back but … then I finally realized, after about three weeks of him putting me off, that he wasn’t coming back. I lost my dignity, my looks, and the person who I thought was the love of my life.”
Since that tragic day, Waldon has undergone 40 surgeries to help her regain the ability to drive, swim, and cook again. After living with her parents briefly during her recovery, Waldon and Caroline, now 7-years-old, moved into their own home on the same property.
“It’s our own place and we have been able to restart our lives,” says Waldon, now 29-years-old.
“Caroline is everything to me. I do everything for her.”
Waldon has worked hard to regain the confidence she had before the accident, all while managing her frequent pain, as she says it feels like “my hands are on fire” almost daily.
“It has gotten so much better over time,” she said. “God has been amazing and helped my skin smooth out. I see my features more and more and how I was before.”
Having a serious boyfriend since December has also made her feel loved and beautiful once again.
“He treats me and my daughter amazing, which has helped tremendously,” says Waldon. “I have had several people try to date me because of my story, thinking I have money and to get publicity.”
But she says she knew she found the right guy in her neighbor Christopher when he sent her a Facebook message the day after Christmas in 2018 — and “that’s all she wrote,” she says.
Caroline also “loves him and looks up to him,” something that means the world to Waldon, she says.
In addition to her family, she has received tremendous support from the community. Her local church built her home, and a GoFundMe page set up by her mother Karen to help cover expenses has reached over $428,000.
“It’s been a journey but I’m only getting better,” she says. “My burns don’t define who I am.”
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