Matthew Richards and his mum Johanna Wallace.
Matthew Richards and his mum Johanna Wallace. Kevin Farmer

Burns victim reveals 'whole life turned upside down'

PERMANENT nerve damage to Matthew Richards' feet will keep the talented 15-year-old soccer player from returning to the field again.

Severe burns to his face, neck, arms, torso, thighs and ankles have made his beloved pastime of swimming at the beach something that won't happen for years to come.

Showering is a one-and-a-half hour process that requires the help of his mother to ensure he is properly cleaned.

Even playing in the backyard with his pet dog Jack is a struggle, restricted by exposure to direct sunlight and the complications that could arise from a friendly nip.

The changes to which Matthew, his mother Johanna Wallace and their family and friends have had to adapt since someone threw accelerant on a fire at a backyard party in August have been many and marked.

"It has totally turned our lives upside down," Ms Wallace said yesterday.

Matthew is treated by a physiotherapist three times a week and his visits to burns specialists for check-ups in Brisbane have reduced to once every four weeks.

He sleeps wearing a face mask and the rest of his burns are permanently wrapped in a pressure suit.

Burns victim Matthew Richards.
Burns victim Matthew Richards. Kevin Farmer

Despite the huge changes, he and his family have remained positive and are getting by with the support of the wider community.

"My mates, their support, I can't complain at all," Matthew said.

He said public outings were also getting easier; however, he couldn't help but notice people staring at him.

"People who look at me with pity, it just frustrates me," Matthew said.

"I'm injured. I'm not sick or dying."

The next big step in his recovery will be a return to classes at Harristown State High School.

He is excited about seeing his friends on a daily basis, but is nervous about how other students might react when they see him.

His mother said a generous contribution from the family of his fellow burns victim Paris Turkington about a month ago had made Matt's home life more bearable.

"The air-conditioning (in Matthew's room) was donated by Gary Turkington," she said.

Matthew said: "My room has always been the hottest.

"Now with the air-conditioning it has made it a lot easier."

Ms Wallace said news of grievous bodily harm charges being laid against a boy alleged to have thrown accelerant on the fire had come as a relief.

"For me personally, it is accountability," she said.

"I feel that when something this bad happens, someone has to be held accountable." Her son agreed.

Ms Wallace supported an initiative to increase awareness of the dangers of putting accelerants onto fires.

Matthew was also supportive of increased awareness.

"Paris loved singing, and she can't do that.

"I loved playing football, and I can't do that," he said.



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