Life can change in an instant.
A seemingly average day, can suddenly and irreversibly change the course of your life, your entire family’s life. Liam Soffe articulates it perfectly: “It only took thirty seconds for Elizabeth to be burned this badly”.
As I talk to Liam and his wife Sinead on a Zoom call, their now seven-year-old daughter Elizabeth makes faces at me into the webcam. Despite the severe scarring suffered in those critical 30 seconds, Elizabeth’s cheeky grin is contagious and her eyes glint with percolating mischief – and perhaps boredom – as we talk.
The story of ‘Baby Elizabeth’ made headlines in 2014 when a freak fire in the family’s apartment left the Irish infant fighting for her life.
“We were living in Qatar,” says Liam, who had been working as an engineer in Gulf state.
“We had been there for three years and Elizabeth was six months old.
“That morning Sinead put her down for a nap in her cot upstairs. When she went downstairs she heard Elizabeth had started to cry, which she never did when she was put down for a nap.
"Sinead went back upstairs and their room was filled with smoke, smoke coming under the door. She went inside, and the room was on fire. The cot was on fire. Elizabeth was on fire.”
Sinead grabbed her youngest child from the inferno, extinguished the flames on Elizabeth and, ran from the house before calling for an ambulance.
It was clear immediately that Elizabeth had been badly injured and local hospitals were in no position to care for her. They were sent to England by air-ambulance and eventually made it to the specialist unit in Birmingham Children’s Hospital where the extent of Elizabeth’s injuries soon became clear.
Elizabeth was burned down to her skull leaving her without hair. She lost one of her ears and a lot of her nose. She received full thickness burns to 60 per cent of her body. She lost most of her fingers.
In the 7 years since the fire she has had more than 70 operations; Reconstruction of her face and hands, skin grafts, releases of skin grafts and laser treatment.
The reason the family are taking to me today, however, is because Elizabeth has decided that she wants to raise money to help children with scarring injuries using a fractional carbon laser.
The groundbreaking treatment is not yet available for children, but Elizabeth is determined to raise the £130,000 needed to make a difference to kids with scars.
She has undertaken to run a mile a day until she completes a marathon.
“It was hard at the start,” Elizabeth tells me “My legs got tired and I got hot and sweaty.”
The treatment offered by new laser helps break down hypertrophic scars, a very raised type of scar that you get from skin grafts, injury and operations.
“Obviously it helps with appearance. But for Elizabeth and other children, that's not the most important thing. It's that it helps with their range of movement,” says Liam.
“Those scars can become very tight. For Elizabeth, it's at her elbows and wrists. The laser treatment helps break down the scars which will increase your range of movement. This means she wouldn't have to have as many operations to release them.”
At the moment, Elizabeth needs to have an operation every six months to release the damaged and grafted skin which doesn’t stretch like skin ordinarily would as she grows.
Having just passed the half-way mark of here planned 26-mile schedule, Elizabeth was regularly joined on her runs by friends and family until a classmate tested positive for Covid and the family were forced to isolate.
However, Elizabeth wouldn’t let something like a global pandemic or isolation get in the way of her plans.
“I ran around the garden,” she says. “I ran around 73 times to do my mile.”
“Mummy only ran around once,” she adds before doubling over laughing at mum Sinead’s expense.
The specialist burns center in Birmingham Children's Hospital is one of the leading facilities in Europe and cares from children from across the UK and Ireland. A fractional CO2 Laser can significantly reduce the appearance of scars from burns and surgery and reduce the need for ongoing procedures.
To make a donation to Elizabeth’s campaign please visit: