The parents of a girl who was burned in a fire as a baby have written a heartbreaking open letter to the adults who stare at her and shun her because of her injuries.
Liam and Sinead Soffe revelead how they’ve been asked to remove Elizabeth from a swimming lesson, told she should be locked away and watched when parents let their children refuse to hold her hand.
The couple were living in Qatar in 2014 when on 29 May, Sinead put six-month-old Elizabeth down in her cot for a nap.
Just seconds later, she heard her crying and went back upstairs to find the room and Elizabeth on fire.
She grabbed her, patted her down and ran downstairs.
Elizabeth lost half of her fingers on both hands, her left thumb and had extensive burns over her body.
The fire meant Liam, Sinead, Elizabeth and her siblings Danny, 11, Amelia, nine, and William, seven, lost everything and they moved to Birmingham to be close to the specialist hospital where Elizabeth was treated.
Liam told Metro.co.uk: ‘It had a massive impact on our family. Besides the injury to Elizabeth everything we had was destroyed. We had to leave out home, the country where Elizabeth and William were born, the kids left their school and all their friends. We were flown by air ambulance to Birmingham Childrens Hospital, a city that we had never been before.
‘The other children went to Ireland to stay with grandparents. It was five months before we were all together again. When we knew Elizabeth would need treatment at BCH for many years we decided to move permanently.
‘We moved into a house in Kings Heath, the kids moved over and started school the next day while Elizabeth was still in hospital. The kids have been remarkable resilient while their whole lives changed around them.’
Now five years on, the family are settled in the city Elizabeth faces stares and rude comments from other children, but her parents are particularly upset by the comments made by adults.
In the letter, published by charity Changing Faces UK, they explain:
‘To all those who make out daughter’s life more difficult than it should be.
‘To the parent who tried to remove my daughter from their child’s swimming lessons. To the mum who told me that children who look like my daugther would be locked away in her country. To the parents who watched their children refuse to hold my daughter’s hand and failed to intervene. To all the adults whos stare, double take, gawp day in, day out at our precious girl.
They add that they understand children staring and being curious because Elizabeth looks different as she has no fingers, no hair, one ear and is covered in skin grafts.
The letter continues: ‘What I do not understand is adults acting the way that they do around her.
‘Why would an adult say “at least she won’t have to wear a Halloween mask” or refuse to serve us at a supermarket till because she looked ‘scary’? Why would any adult think this is an acceptable way to behave?
‘The worst part is that my daughter will have to deal with this her whole life, every single day, in every room that she walks into.
‘Perhaps when she is older the blatant and rude comments will cease, but the stares, double takes, pointing and whispers never will.
‘I fool myself into thinking that she doesn’t notice that she is too young to realise that she is different and because she is only five, it doesn’t matter to her. But this pretence will not last long. She will notice, she will be affected by it and I am sure that the sheer weight of it will wear her down.
‘One day our daughter will go out into the world by herself and I will not be able to shield her from the realities of the world and from the people who think that her feelings don’t matter.
‘I learned early on that she will learn her reaction from me. If I challenge every person who points or whispers or grimaces, then she will. If I get angry or upset or aggressive, then so will she. And that is not the person I want her to be.’
The Soffes want parents to realise that the way they treat Elizabeth impacts on other children and there are ways to help them understand.
The letter adds: ‘I wish I could explain this to the adults who treat her differently – that their children learn their response from them. That if they judge people by how they look, then so will their children. These parents don’t attempt to show their children that our daughter is a little girl just like them.
‘They don’t say “why don’t you ask her what her name is?” or “she looks about the same age as you, I wonder if she enjoys swimming as much as you do?”. Instead, their reaction is to remove this troubling difference from their children’s lives so that they do not risk them being upset or asking awkward questions.’
But the couple say that these people are the ones missing out and reveal that Elizabeth is quite a character.
They say: ‘My daughter is an amazing, strong, funny, determined, happy, intelligent child. I have seen her have the most profound positive impact on people just by meeting them and sharing a few brief moments.
‘People like Pete, her wig maker, who was immediately take with her and offered to make wigs for her whole life, to Sophie Countess of Wessex who met her at the opening of the burns research centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. These are the people I want my children to grow up around. People who embrace our differences. People who see through them and realise that in fact we are all the same.’
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, dad Liam explained that they wrote the letter because they wanted other people to understand the impact these comments have on Elizabeth and the rest of their family.
‘We wanted to raise awareness of how disfigured people are treated and what they have to deal with. Even a child like Elizabeth is faced with prejudice and nastiness by adults. The letter was to highlight the issue and the try to make parents in particular think how they react and understand that their children are learning from them.
‘The reaction to the letter has been amazing, so much love and support. We have received messages from all over the world and it highlights that the negative reactions people have are only from a small number of people. The majority are kind and understanding.’
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