THE traumatised girlfriend of Strictly’s AJ Pritchard begged him: “Do you still love me?” after she suffered horrific burns in a fireball accident.
Dancer Abbie Quinnen, 23, has told emotionally how she feared she was dying as they desperately battled to put out the flames.
She spoke for the first time of her terrifying ordeal during a stunt intended for social media that went badly wrong and left her with third-degree burns and needing traumatic skin grafts.
Abbie, desperately struggling to hold back tears, said: “AJ and I just wanted to do the lifehack video for fans to watch at home. It was a popular video online so we were doing a test-run in the kitchen that I was going to film.
“My hair caught fire and within seconds the flames had spread to my top and my body was alight.
“It was such a shock, I was panicking and screaming. I dropped down to the floor and I was rolling to try to put out the fire.
“I saw my life flash before my eyes. I never thought something like that would happen to me.
“The first thing I said to AJ was, ‘Is my face going to be OK? Are you still going to love me?’
“I kept repeating this to him and I was shaking in horror.”
The stress of the incident left her unable to sleep and eat and needing to take 27 tablets a day to deal with the pain.
It happened at 26-year-old AJ’s West London flat in January, as they rehearsed the lifehack video for their one million Instagram followers, showing how to cut a glass bottle in half to be used as a vase.
The risky trick involves dipping a rope in a flammable chemical, wrapping it around the bottle and setting light to it.
The couple’s attempt sparked a fireball which engulfed Abbie.
The bottle blew up and her hair and clothing caught fire.
Abbie said: “As soon as AJ lit the flame to the rope, the fire was suddenly everywhere.
“I threw myself on the floor and AJ was running around with wet towels to cover me.
“When it was out, I looked on the floor and it was covered in my burnt hair.
“We had to cut off the crop top I had on with a pair of scissors, my skin was blistering and it was digging into me.”
Abbie, who is also an influencer, had injuries to her face, shoulder, neck, chest and torso.
She suffered second-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on her body, which would see her having three skin grafts.
AJ dialled 999 and was told the ambulance would take too long so his brother Curtis, 25 and also a dancer, drove them to Ealing Hospital in West London.
Abbie said: “AJ was comforting me — I couldn’t speak as I was in so much shock. I was shaking, and I just kept asking if he would still love me. I was wearing a dressing gown and leggings.
“My face was burning hot, it felt very painful. I was lucky it missed my eye.
“I had massive blisters filled with water on my chest, neck and face and they had to pop them and clean the areas.
“It was extremely painful. The doctor made me feel at ease.
“He was constantly contacting AJ, who was outside the hospital all night with Curtis. They wouldn’t let him in due to coronavirus.” Abbie, who spent the night in intensive care while AJ kept her mother Mandy updated, went on to say: “I was worried about the people next to me, too.
“I could hear someone wailing, I kept asking the doctors if they were going to be OK. It was scary.”
She was transferred to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s burns unit the following day.
Abbie explained: “My face swelled up. I couldn’t see out of my right eye.
“Luckily, there were no mirrors in the bathrooms but I kept glimpsing my reflection in my phone screen, it was horrific. I could tell I looked like a completely different person. From the moment it happened, I was worried I would never look the same again.
“I looked so horrible and awful I was terrified about seeing anyone.
“AJ did try to come to the hospital to give me a bag of clothes but I was adamant I didn’t want him to see me like this. I was embarrassed about the way I looked.
“I felt safe in the hospital where they could help me if I was in pain. I was on so many medications I don’t remember a lot of it.”
After five days, Abbie was discharged in a wheelchair and AJ picked her up.
She said: “I was so nervous seeing him, when we were reunited we were both welling up. But once we saw each other, I felt better.
“I remember trying to get home and being on a mission to hide, I was so traumatised by the way that I looked. AJ was just relieved that I was talking.”
Devoted AJ helped clean Abbie’s wounds every two hours and she returned to hospital to have her bandages changed.
The horror incident has brought the couple “closer together”.
She said: “He reassures me constantly and tells me we are together forever — he welcomed me home with balloons. I can’t thank him enough. He’s been incredible. He helps me moisturise every day, he washes my silicone pads, used to reduce scarring. I’m so grateful.”
Abbie was told she would need a skin graft to give her scars the best chance of healing.
She said: “I had an amazing surgeon who told me I needed to decide where to take my donor skin from, the back of my head or the other side of my rib cage.
'I would cry in the night'
“I couldn’t cope with shaving my head and losing more hair, so we went for my rib cage.”
But when the surgeon operated to perform the grafts, they found Abbie had an infection — so they were forced to use allografts (donor skin) instead of her own.
This put Abbie in emotional turmoil. She said: “I would cry in the night before each operation.
“Every time I had an operation that didn’t work with my own skin I would wake up shaking, I was so worried I wouldn’t heal.
“I remember thinking, ‘Haven’t I been through enough? Why is this happening to me?’ But I tried to stay positive.”
Happily, Abbie’s third graft was able to be done with skin from her rib cage on seven patches, including her arm, torso and neck.
AJ became Abbie’s full-time carer, with her mum taking over when he was at work.
She said: “I’ve been bed-bound. At first I was really struggling to eat. I lost so much weight that I got down to seven stone.
“Doctors had to be careful about the dosage of drugs because I was so tiny.
“But AJ makes sure I’m eating the right amount of healthy food to help me recover, like lots of protein and vegetables.”
Initially, Abbie was taking up to 27 tablets a day, which left her feeling drowsy and distressed.
Abbie, now just on paracetamol, is too scared to go outside for fear of what people might think.
Her trauma has left her with anxiety and she cannot sleep without leaving the TV on.
Abbie’s Instagram account has dozens of photos of her in skimpy outfits and bikinis on the beach.
But she knows that in the future she will have to be much more covered up as she has to protect herself from the sun.
She has been inundated with support since the accident was reported last weekend, including one from TV host Claudia Winkleman, 49, whose daughter Matilda’s Halloween outfit caught fire in 2014.
How docs treated her
By Mo Akhavani
FOR skin grafts, first the skin is assessed to see how deep the burn is.
A surgeon then shaves away the burn in a process called debridement — the removal of dead or infected tissue.
A skin graft can reduce healing time and scarring.
You take a paper-thin layer of healthy skin from another area, which regenerates.
Surgeons apply this skin, securing it with sutures or staples, to the affected area. In five days, it is known if the graft has been successful.
Abbie said: “I was so happy Claudia got in touch, it was awful what happened to her daughter.
“I’ve been communicating on social media and reading about people’s journeys gives me hope.”
Now Abbie wants to warn youngsters about the perils of social media videos. She said: “I want to raise awareness about how dangerous this video is. I think that helping others will help heal myself.”
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