Arna Hopkins has endured a difficult year, but is touching hearts with her cheery attitude in the face of pain and loss.
Arna, now 4, suffered severe burns to her body and face on September 10 last year after setting fire to her clothes at her Martinborough home. She had been lighting a candle in memory of her twin sister Mila, who had died of an infection only weeks earlier.
Arna's father Regan heard her scream. "I ran into the lounge and couldn't believe what I was seeing. She was just a ball of flames," he said.
Despite severely burning his hands, Mr Hopkins smothered the flames and got Arna into the shower before calling for help.
Arna was flown in the Life Flight Trust's Westpac rescue helicopter to Hutt Hospital, then later in its air ambulance to Auckland's Middlemore Hospital for skin-graft surgery.
The trust featured Arna in its Christ mas appeal this year. Chief executive David Irving said the Wairarapa youngster was an inspiration. "She has a wonderfully positive spirit, she never complains and she's making the most of life."
Mr Irving said it was estimated that 90 people would need a life-saving emergency flight such as Arna's during the Christmas period, and appealed for support to meet the $2500 cost of each flight.
Life Flight pilot Harry Stevenson said he remembered Arna's accident well, not just because of the tragic circumstances but also for having to overcome a "mule kick of turbulence" while clearing the Rimutaka Range.
"Once we got enough altitude, I could see the cloud had built . . . but then, from nowhere, a narrow gap appeared in the cloud. We didn't need a second invitation and I darted through."
Arna's mother Penny said the Life Flight service had been crucial to Arna's recovery and described the feeling of seeing the distinctive red-and-yellow helicopter arrive. "It is the most comforting experience and relief washes over you. You immediately feel like everything is going to be OK."
Since coming home from hospital in October last year, Arna has faced a painful healing process with characteristic good humour. Her uncle, Kane Hopkins, said earlier this year that scarring and still-healing burns would require treatment for up to five years, but his niece was taking it in her stride.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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