Newlyweds Mitch and Courtney Waldron from Tallapoosa, Georgia, were enjoying a beautiful, fall camping trip when Courtney’s life was forever changed.
The couple, only married for 2 months, had been sitting by their campfire when the flames began to die down. In response, Mitch decided to pour gasoline on the fire— setting his wife Courtney ablaze in the process.
In an interview with Inside Edition, Courtney describes the experience, saying, “I was in pain. I was sitting there slapping my face, constantly trying to get it off, get it off.”
She tells PEOPLE, “I stopped dropped and rolled while screaming bloody murder. I thought I was dying.”
During Mitch’s 911 call, he tells the operator, “Ma’am, my wife is burning. Please hurry. We had a campfire and it exploded. We need help.” When she asks what caused the explosion, he says, “It was stupid on my part.”
Courtney is rushed to the hospital but suffers burns over 40% of her face and body as a result of the fire. She spends 51 days in the hospital, undergoing 20 separate surgeries. Still, she is greatly disfigured.
In an interview with PEOPLE, she says, “My hands got burnt because I was trying to put out my face.”
“I felt every inch of my flesh burning off that night.”
Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse for the young mother, she was blindsided by her husband.
Only two weeks after she was released from the hospital, Mitch tells her that he is leaving her to raise her 4-year-old daughter, and pay 2 million dollars worth of medical bills all by herself.
In an interview with Inside Edition, Courtney reveals, “Even though it was an accident, I have yet to receive an ‘I’m sorry that I changed your life.’”
After altering her life forever, Mitch left Courtney unable to work and with nowhere for her and her 4-year-old daughter to live. Luckily, after hearing about her story, her community banded together to build her a house. She also has a GoFundMe account dedicated to paying her medical bills.
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Despite her hardships, she thinks Mitch leaving her was a blessing in disguise. She tells PEOPLE, “I think if [Mitch] 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.”
“The support I’ve received has been unbelievable. I’m so blessed,” she tells PEOPLE.
“I still see me when I look in the mirror. I know deep down that I am still just as beautiful as I was before.”