A newlywed on her honeymoon almost lost her leg after she was hit by a flaming coconut which was set alight by a stray firework.
Natalie Fitzpatrick, 42, married her partner, Paul, 41, in an intimate beach ceremony in Koh Chang, Thailand.
The couple then went island-hopping and were watching a firework display on the beach when firework careered into the crowd.
It hit a coconut drinks display, setting one alight, before it smashed into Natalie’s leg – breaking her tibia and fibula and setting her dress on fire.
Her husband and fellow tourists extinguished the flames and bundled the health care assistant on to a nearby sunbed and carried her to the road.
Helpers unsuccessfully tried to load her into a tuk tuk, before she was put on the back of a pick-up truck and rushed to the nearest hospital.
She had to undergo a series of operations, blood transfusions and skin grafts – and had metal bars inserted into her calf which was left with a gaping hole.
After battling an infection, Natalie – now a mum-of-two – has recovered from the traumatic ordeal which left her and unable to work for two years.
Natalie, from Torquay, Devon, said: “What was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives ended up turning into the most horrific.
“When the firework went off, it careered into the crowd and hit the coconut drink display which set alight and fired straight into my leg.
“It all happened so fast. The next thing I know, people are trying to pat out flames as my dress caught alight and my leg is in agony.
“I really thought I was going to die or that I’d lose my leg.
“I feel so lucky to have survived and I’m relieved it wasn’t my daughter that the coconut hit – otherwise she certainly wouldn’t be here today.”
Natalie and Paul got married on Boxing Day in 2012, and with their four-year-old daughter Ezme in tow celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party on Kata beach in Phuket.
They said an unofficial fireworks display began on the beach – and they felt “unsafe”.
Natalie added: “People were selling them on the beach and it wasn’t just the small ones you get in Sainsbury’s – it was the big ones you get at displays at the seafront.
“Anyone could buy one and let it off and it was a bit scary.”
Natalie and her family felt uneasy and they were thinking about heading back to the hotel when disaster struck.
She said: “Someone bought one and let it off and instead of going up into the air it headed straight for me.
“It darted into the crowd. I didn’t even see it coming.
“As I went to stand up, I just fell down.
“The firework had hit a coconut drinks display – which was filled with alcohol – and placed on top of a table.
“It had caught fire and shot off the table and into my lower leg.
“The power of the firework had fired the coconut in my direction.
“It flew straight into my leg – breaking my tibia and fibula and catching my dress alight.
“My husband was patting my dress, thinking I was on fire.
“He went to move my leg and it was all weird and floppy.
“I just went into shock – my whole body started shaking.
“Thankfully there was a male doctor from Belgium there and a female doctor from Australia on the beach.
“She was talking to me and saying: ‘I work in ICU, I’ll look after you, don’t worry’.”
She said it took an hour to get to A&E, before she was transferred to a hospital in Phuket – a journey that took another two hours.
“I wasn’t able to have any pain relief either as they wanted to see our passport and travel insurance documents first,” she said.
“It was 3am in the morning so Paul had to get in a taxi with Ezme and travel to our hotel – more than an hour away – and come back with the papers.
“I was begging for pain relief the whole time – I was in absolute agony.
“When they got all of our paperwork, they gave me some pain relief and rushed me straight into theatre and they put pins in both of my bones – the tibia and fibula – to fix it.
“Where the coconut had hit my leg, the impact had caused the skin to corrode and die. It was just getting blacker and blacker.
“Every other day I had to go to theatre and they put me to sleep while they cut away at the skin – it was called debriding.
“Unfortunately, their interpreter was on holiday for the two weeks whilst I was there so I also had to try and translate what they were saying on my phone.
“When I woke up in recovery, my arms had been strapped to the bed like a crucifix.
“I got bed sores and my heels turned black as I wasn’t moved properly – as I should have been. I couldn’t get out of bed.
“I was in hospital for just over a fortnight. I had to have a blood transfusion and unit of blood while I was there as I lost so much.
“I was on a morphine drip.”
Natalie’s family wanted to travel to be with her, but due to the busy time of year, they were unable to book flights.
She said: “My mum and dad were trying to get flights to see us – but they couldn’t book them as they were all full.
“I just had to grin and bear it.
“Our insurance company flew a nurse out from the UK because I was on so much medication. She was so lovely.
“Although the bones were mending, I had a hole in my leg where they had cut away the skin.
“You could see right to the metal work in my leg.
“Luckily we’d taken out insurance and they paid for everything.
“They put the nurse and I in business class on an Emirates flight and flew us back to Birmingham in mid-January.
“An ambulance met me at the airport and took me to Exeter Hospital.”
Once back in the UK, Natalie saw a consultant, and surgeons had to remove some of the metal work in her leg to help it heal properly.
“They also took some muscle out of my right leg at the top, inside of my leg and put it in the hole in my lower leg and attached it to my main artery in my heel,” she said.
“I was warned if it didn’t take, they might have to amputate below the knee and I was told that was likely to be the case at three different stages.”
Doctors also found she had contracted an infection.
“They couldn’t work out why the bone wasn’t healing,” she said.
“They found a bug in my leg – called shewenella alegia – which is a foreign bacteria, you don’t get in the UK.
“Normally fishermen get it or it’s found in places by the sea, which makes sense as the accident happened on a beach.
“I was off work for two years in total as my leg just wasn’t healing.”
Natalie fell pregnant with her second child during the healing process, and had to go to Torbay Hospital to have IV antibiotics every day.
She said: “They said they’d never given anyone IV antibiotics for that length of time whilst being pregnant.
“They said I could have ended up having an amputation.
“I had to worry of not only being pregnant, but also potentially having my leg chopped off.
“A week before I had Orla, my second child, now four, in March 2014, I had my the bars and cage removed from my leg.”
Natalie is still recovering from the ordeal – six years on.
She said: “I get the odd pain now and again.
“I’ve only got half the lymph nodes in my leg and have to wear a special stocking to stop the swelling.
“But I think anything is better than not having a leg at all.
“I’ve changed in myself – I’ve got bigger because I can’t move around as much as I used to.
“But I’m just thankful I’m still here and that it wasn’t my head, it was my leg or it wasn’t Ezme, now 10 – she wouldn’t be here if it had hit her.
“If the coconut had hit my head, I wouldn’t be here either.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, I’ve come out of it stronger.
“It couldn’t drive or get out and about. I couldn’t work. I was a prisoner in my own home for two years.
“When I took my little girl to the museum there was a big bang that sounded like a firework being let off and I just burst into tears.
“Whenever firework night comes up, I panic.
“When a loud noise sounds and I’m not ready for it or if I don’t know it’s going to happen I jump out of my skin. I feel like I’ve got PTSD as I suffer from flashbacks too.”