Courtney Waldon vividly remembers sitting by a campfire on September 30, 2016, cooking tuna steak and asparagus. The 27-year-old mom was on her phone using Facebook as her husband of two months got up to relight the fire. After swinging a can of gas, some of it got on her body. The next thing she knew she was engulfed in flames.
“I stopped, dropped and rolled while screaming bloody murder,” Waldon of Tallapoosa, Georgia, tells PEOPLE. “I thought I was dying.”
Waldon, who is mom to 5-year-old daughter Caroline, miraculously survived but was left with fourth-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on her hands, legs and feet.
“My hands got so burnt because I was trying to put out my face,” she says. “I felt every inch of my flesh burning off that night.”
After yelling to call 911, Waldon only survived because of how close she lived to the hospital.
“They said if the ambulance arrived one minute later I wouldn’t have made it,” she recalls. “I just started praying to God in the ambulance.”
Waldon was in the hospital for 51 days. After waking up from a 30-day induced coma, she started to panic.
“I just wanted my daughter,” she says. “She’s the reason I live.”
Waldon’s family only told Caroline what had happened as the date got closer for her mom to come home.
“They said, ‘Mommy got badly burned and she will never look the same,’ ” she says. “When I got home, she looked at me really weird and was standoffish. But then I said, ‘It’s me baby. It’s your momma.’ After that she came and gave me a hug. She hasn’t let go since.”
Hope and Healing
Throughout her entire stay in the hospital, which included 40 days in the ICU— and every day since — Waldon has managed to stay positive. But she admits the first time she saw her burned face was difficult.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “I got sick to my stomach and almost passed out.”
Waldon — who has had over 20 surgeries since the incident — says that because of God and her daughter, she’s taking advantage of her second chance at life.
“I shouldn’t be here but I am,” she says. “I know that there are people out there who have it worse than I do. I’ve always been a believer that everything happens for a reason and I still believe that.
“God saved my life and now I have work to do on earth to help others. I received a message three days ago from a lady who said she didn’t kill herself because of my story.”
Waldon wants to go on and help people who have been through traumatic situations.
“Whether it be burns, a car wreck or even if it’s just that someone’s husband cheated on them,” she says. “That’s my goal.”
She has even found the strength to focus on the good in her life after her husband left her following the incident.
“Two weeks after being home from the hospital my husband left us,” she says. “He said he couldn’t handle or deal with me any longer.”
She could barely walk at the time and was unable to even open up a bag of chips for her daughter.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” says Waldon. “I think if he was around he would be holding me down. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today and wouldn’t have made as much progress.”
Because Waldon is currently unable to work because of her disabilities, a GoFundMe was created to help with medical bills and lack of income. She’s currently living with her parents who have been by her side ever since the fire.
Refuge Ministries of West Georgia is also in the process of building her a new home free of charge on her parents property.
“The support I’ve received has been unbelievable,” she says. “I am so blessed.”