Dana Vulin was turned into a human fireball and lived behind a mask for two years until she took the brave step to reveal her face on national television.
Dana Vulin was at home alone, sleeping on the sofa, when she was woken by a woman’s voice in the room. ‘Hello, Dana,’ it said. She looked up and saw intruder Natalie Dimitrovska – the jealous estranged wife of a man Dana had met at a New Year’s Eve party, just a month earlier.
Natalie angrily accused Dana of having an affair with her husband. High on drugs, Natalie threw a bottle of methylated spirits over Dana, a convicted drug addict, while the latter was holding an open flame lamp used for smoking crystal meth.
‘I was pretty much instantly on fire,’ wept Dana, when she testified later in court. ‘I was a human fireball.’
February 16, 2012, was the day that Dana’s life changed forever . She suffered third degree burns to two-thirds of her body – from the top of her head to the top of her legs.
‘To be able to explain to anyone, I mean, really explain how painful it was being set on fire, is truly impossible,’ Dana says. ‘There are no words.’
Dana Vulin facial burns Dana's horrific facial burns
It was a chance encounter that set off this tragic chain of events. Dana, who lives in Australia, had been at the Perth’s Crown Casino celebrating on New Year’s Eve, when she met Edin, Natalie’s husband.
Dana later admitted in court to meeting up with Edin on one occasion after the party, too. She was a stunning blonde, who always made an effort with her appearance with regular manicures and visits to the hairdresser’s.
Natalie felt threatened and believed Dana was trying to steal her husband.
In the following weeks, Natalie bombarded Dana with messages, and even threatened to ‘ruin her pretty face’. A month later, she broke into Dana’s home and set her on fire before running off, laughing, as Dana suffered.
Neighbours heard Dana’s screams and found her in incredible pain. She was rushed to hospital and put in a medically induced coma. Her family stayed by her bedside while her life hung in the balance.
When Dana awoke 10 days later, she was in constant agony from the burns and faced a very different life. She was horrified when she caught sight of her reflection, and she now had to rely on other people to care for her.
Dana had been an independent university graduate who loved parties and glamour, but now doctors told her she had to wear a pressure suit on her body for 23 hours a day. She’d also have to wear a full face mask while her skin healed. It was a huge struggle – physically and mentally.
‘I’ve been faceless and it makes you feel like a nothing and a no one,’ she said at the time. ‘I know who I am, but I’m beige. I don’t have any expressions on my face, you can’t see my mouth, you can’t see my nose, you can literally only see my eyeballs, not my eyebrows. It makes me feel like a faceless nothing, that’s the best way to describe it.’
Dana had over 30 operations to correct the damage, and was told she had to wear her mask for over two years. To try and take back control of her life, she decided to get fit.
Dana worked out every day. As her body grew stronger, so did her mind. ‘If I could turn back time and not be burnt or have the chance to not have my scars, of course I would take it. But if someone were to ask me how I feel about my body – I am damn proud of it,’ she says.
After the attack, Natalie, 28, had tried to flee to Macedonia, but was arrested before boarding her flight. In October 2013, she was sentenced to 17 years in prison for grievous bodily harm with intent.
‘It is really difficult to imagine how one human being could leave while another human being is on fire,’ the Judge commented. ‘It is totally unimaginable how you could not put out the flames, or try to, or at least call for help. Instead, you laughed and ran away.’
In a statement Dana said, ‘Of course it’s impossible to say how painful it is being set on fire – but the aftermath is a billion times worse. The day I was set on fire, not just my body was burned… my hopes, dreams and future ambitions all burned, too.’
But Dana fought back last month, when she shared the moment she removed her mask for good on Australian TV. It was very emotional for everyone. ‘In the beginning I didn’t for one second think I would ever look in the mirror and see the old Dana again,’she admitted.
‘It would’ve been easier to die, but I’ve never taken the easy road to anything. It’s the hardest, rockiest, biggest mountain you can possibly think of climbing.’
Dana, now 28, revealed that while she was recovering from her ordeal, she’d also been diagnosed with cervical cancer. ‘There were times when I thought how much can one person deal with?’ she admits.
She underwent an operation to remove the cancer cells from her cervix and was given the all clear. Dana describes the support she’s received as being ‘overwhelming’ and is ready to start living again.
She’s now busy enjoying the simple things, such as not having to drink through a straw, and the possibility of meeting someone to settle down with one day. Dana says her scars are part of her, but they don’t define her.
When asked what she wants people to see when they look at her, Dana says, ‘I hope they’ll see strength, power, confidence, self-respect, courage, determination – and I hope they see the scars because it’s a part of me now… a new Dana. I am who I am and this is it.’
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