Tim's story: Surviving severe burns and supporting other survivors

Tim sustained severe burns in a workplace accident 15 years ago and now mentors other burns survivors.

Professional painter using a spray gun

The youngest of five children, Tim grew up on the Central Coast in the sixties and seventies. His dad worked mostly as a travelling salesman until he set up a car repair business in Warners Bay.

As a kid, Tim loved the cars and collected models of vintage brands. He was always getting into trouble for trying to start the cars in the backyard. Tim left school in Year 10 and got an apprenticeship with his dad as a spray painter as well as working on the car engines.

He met future wife Yvonne when her car broke down and Tim was able to get it started... They ended up dating and got married in 1985. The newly-wed couple lived with Tim's parents for three months and later bought a house in Warners Bay.

A workplace accident

After working with his father for 10 years until the business closed, Tim found another job as an industrial spray painter in Tomago, painting containers, waste bins and trucks.

In 2001 Tim and Yvonne moved to Raymond Terrace to be closer to Tim's work. They made friends in the community and joined a local church. One afternoon in May 2006, Tim was at work painting the inside of a 20-cubic-metre waste bin.

"I had no idea that an apprentice had shut the door and started welding the outside of the bin," says Tim.

"It's against all the safety rules because the paint is so flammable. The fumes built up and there was an explosion. I don’t remember any of it."

Tim sustained extensive burns to nearly 90 percent of his body. Yvonne got a phone call from Tim's work to say he had some minor burns on his hands. On the way to Tim's work she saw a helicopter, an ambulance and then the police. A policeman told her that Tim would probably not survive the night.

As Tim was airlifted to hospital, Yvonne held on to that first message about a minor accident and that Tim is not going to die tonight. She was right, but it was a terrible struggle.


Tim was in a coma for three and a half months and endured more than 20 operations, partial amputation of both hands and multiple skin grafts. Some of the grafting techniques—such as "spray-on" skin, developed by Dr Fiona Wood at Royal Perth Hospital to help the burns survivors of the 2002 Bali bombing—were a major factor in Tim's survival.

When Tim regained consciousness, he couldn't speak and he had to communicate by sign language—often it was just with his eyes. At first his elbows were locked in, but by Christmas they had unlocked. Like a miracle! The doctors and nurses called him The Miracle Man.


Tim spent seven months in Royal North Shore before moving to Royal Rehab in Ryde. He didn't want Yvonne to leave—she stayed in Sydney the whole time and became known as Nurse Yvonne at rehab.

“It took me a good three months in rehab to get my legs to work properly. I had to relearn a lot of things.”

A year after the accident Tim finally came home. But the next few years were full of return trips to hospital to deal with complications arising from the condition of Tim's skin and the recurrence of surgical hernias. Tim and Yvonne have had to thoroughly educate themselves about skin care.

Soon after returning home, Tim decided to stop all his pain medications. He hated his dependence on them and all the side effects so he went cold turkey. It was terrible for two weeks but the end result was good.

A burns mentor

On one of his stays in Royal North Shore, Tim was asked by one of the nurse practitioners to talk to another burns patient.

"He wasn't as severely burnt as me but he was very upset and crying and all the nurses were upset as well. I spoke to him and he calmed down."

Tim is now involved in the hospital's burns mentoring program and meets one-on-one with recent survivors, discussing adjustment and rehabilitation issues.

He points out that peer support for burns survivors, especially adult survivors, hadn't really got off the ground here in Australia.

"We started to bring people together. We have an adult Facebook group that's grown to 150 members, but it's hard to organise meetings because of limited sponsorship. We had a national meeting on the Sunshine Coast last year that went well—we even had 10 people here from New Zealand—and we were planning one on the Central Coast this year but, because of COVID, it never happened," says Tim.

In 2018 Tim and Yvonne went to a World Burns Congress in Michigan. Survivors told their own particular stories and there was lots of discussion of new treatments and technologies and scarring issues.

While Yvonne is Tim's full-time carer, icare's Workers Care Program provides support workers to help Tim for about 16 hours a week.


On top of his work with other burns survivors through online forums and peer support groups, Tim is doing a chaplaincy course through his church to give him skills in going into the community and talking to people.

“I want to help those burn survivors who don't get much ongoing assistance. There are a lot of suicides among this group, particularly those suffering from post-traumatic stress.”

Beyond Burns is a virtual hub that provides connections between survivors, information and support networks.