At age 5, Brayden Warnock-Hannon suffered severe burns that changed his life. Over 50 surgeries later, Brayden is focusing on giving others hope.
At just five years-old, Brayden Warnock-Hannon is fighting for his life.
With his t-shirt fully engulfed in flames, he sprints out into the backyard of his Dunedin home. It feels like he is being stung by hundreds of giant bees and he can hardly breathe.
A neighbour quickly comes to the rescue, ripping his burning shirt off before his mum throws him into a cold shower and dials 111.
Brayden has suffered severe burns to nearly half his body and, in a split second, his life has changed forever.
Over the years, it would be easy to take on a negative mindset and retreat into his own world. But that’s not in Brayden’s nature.
Now 18, he has had over 50 operations in his young life but refuses to let that hold him back. “It was a struggle at the start and is hard to get used to,” he says.
“But as your life goes on you just need to remember all the good things you can look forward to – I just try to stay on the positive side and keep happy.”
ACC has been there for Brayden – and thousands of other tamariki across the country – every step of the way in his recovery, paying for the ongoing surgeries and helping out in many other areas.
A life-changing day
The fateful day that turned the lives of both Brayden and his family upside down began the same as any other.
Brayden had recently started primary school and headed home happy after one of his first days.
Feeling peckish and trying to act grown up, he decided to cook himself some noodles. He’d seen his mum do it and thought he knew how.
“I’d actually popped over to my neighbour’s for a coffee but another neighbour was watching him and was sitting outside,” mother Angela Warnock says.
“But Brayden decided to cook himself some food and that’s a big thing I’d say now to other parents – make sure your kids are never left in the kitchen by themselves, even if you think they won’t try to cook anything.”
As Brayden reached over to turn off the element, his t-shirt touched the hot surface and quickly sparked into flames.
“It didn’t really click into my head what was happening straight away,” he says.
“I was obviously screaming a lot because of the pain but, being so young, I don’t think I was fully aware of what was going on. I didn’t really know what to do so I just ran outside and our neighbour pulled the shirt off me.”
Angela quickly arrived on the scene and was faced with a mother’s worst nightmare. “I think I just went into adrenaline mode and stayed in that mode all day,” she says.
After being rushed to theatre, Brayden was put into an induced coma and spent the night in Dunedin Hospital.
“It wasn’t until the next day, when the life flight crew arrived to take him to Auckland and the trolley was there with all the gear, that I just broke down,” Angela says.
“Then I just kind of sucked it up for the next couple of years because I knew I had to be strong for him.” Brayden was flown up to Middlemore Hospital and spent a couple of weeks in the intensive care unit before another few weeks in a dedicated burns unit.
Another fortnight followed at Christchurch Hospital before Brayden was finally able to head back to Dunedin Hospital – which was to become like a second home to him over the coming years.
“Originally, it was almost every day, just in and out of hospital all the time for bandage changes and check-ups,” he says.
“Now it’s turned into once or twice a year for operations and I’m not sure how long that will go on for – it could be until the day I die really.”
ACC lends a helping hand
Brayden’s long road to recovery has been made smoother with the support of ACC.
His ongoing surgeries – mainly skin grafts and removing scar tissue – are all covered, while ACC has provided further assistance by taking care of other medical costs and counselling.
“ACC has been wonderful,” Angela says.
“When Brayden was younger, he needed some psychological help and they were happy to fund that. He needed the same type of support at another time and there were no questions asked, it was all absolutely fine which is a blessing,” she adds.
“The cost of all his surgeries and the garments he wore were all very expensive – without ACC I think we would have struggled a lot. I’ve always been told that if he needs anything to just give them a call. The range of things that are covered is amazing.”
Getting back to life
Having only just started his schooling prior to being burned, Brayden initially found returning to normal life a challenge. His young mind was still trying to make sense of what he was going through.
“I still wasn’t really mentally aware of what was going on, it only clicked a couple of years later as I got older and properly realised what had happened,” the Kaikorai Valley College student admits.
But Brayden was largely spared the bullying or other ostracising behaviour that many other young people have suffered for looking a bit different.
“I think I was one of the lucky ones, everyone really accepted me. They obviously noticed the scars and wanted to know what happened,” he says.
“But after I told them the story they just treated me like another normal person – they just ignored the scars and carried on as if I didn’t have them in the first place.”
The regular hospital stays proved harder to deal with as he entered his teens though.
“It’s not too bad at the younger ages because you enjoy getting time off school,” he laughs.
“But as I’ve gotten older it’s been a lot harder not being able to hang out with friends or miss days at school for important tests or something. You wonder what you’re going to miss or if you’re going to fail something.”
Using his experiences to help others
Knowing first-hand what it’s like to suffer a life-changing injury at a young age, Brayden is determined to make the most of his positive outlook by providing hope to anyone going through something similar.
He is an ambassador for Cure Kids, New Zealand’s leading child health research charity, and also acts as a mentor for the Burn Support Group, another charitable trust which aims to improve the lives of burn survivors.
“They want the younger kids to know early on that there are a lot of people like them and a lot of support they can get, especially from us older kids,” he explains.
“We can help them learn how to deal with certain things, like going back to school or missing out on school with operations. They have a camp every year and it’s great being able to connect and help each other out because we’re all going through the same situation.”
Brayden’s admirable desire to help others also shines through in his career ambitions. “My biggest goal is to be a police officer, that’s been my goal for a long time now,” he says.
“After what I’ve been through, I just really want to help keep people safe.”
An inspiration to those around him
Brayden’s infectious positivity has been fuelled in part by the experiences Cure Kids and the Burn Support Group have helped provide him with – one of the silver linings of his status as an inspirational burn survivor.
“I take it as a massive opportunity and I feel so grateful I get to do so many things most people might not even do in their lifetime,” he says.
“I’ve even travelled to America a couple of times and met so many people from around the world with burns. Hearing all about their stories and recoveries is amazing.”
His own story is an inspiration to many, including his girlfriend of three years, Mackenzie Campbell.
“I like how he’s so positive and I find it amazing how he sees it in that sort of way,” Mackenzie, 17, says.
“Obviously, he’s probably upset at some stages but he always has a smile on his face which amazes me. He doesn’t even seem like he’s in pain after surgeries, he’s always just like, ‘Oh, it’s just another surgery’. I find that so inspiring about him.”
Angela is just as much in awe of how her son has coped with what life has thrown at him. “I’m really, really proud – he really inspires me by what he does and how he gets his story out there,” she says.
“Anyone you speak to who knows Brayden will have such great things to say about him. He’s been through a lot and, even though sometimes it looks like things don’t phase him, I’m sure they do. But he doesn’t let it hold him back.”
Keeping our tamariki safe
It’s not just Brayden who we help out when it comes to keeping our tamariki safe and helping them recover from injury.
Last year, we accepted over 220,000 claims for injuries to children. These injuries came at a cost of $253 million – the highest for the past five years.
This goes towards financial support for medical services, care and equipment – allowing you to focus more on helping your tamariki recover and less on worrying about how you will support them.
We’re here for tamariki
- Being active is all part of a healthy childhood in Aotearoa, along with the scraped knees and bumped heads that sometimes go with it
- But if tamariki are injured, we’re here to help – regardless if the injury happened at home, school or out in the community doing the things they love
- Last year, we helped over 220,000 tamariki recover from injury, which came at a cost of $253 million – the highest for the past five years
- We also invest in programmes to help keep tamariki safe, teaching important skills like water safety and how to respond in an emergency
Head to Safekids Aotearoa for advice on keeping your tamariki safe while still enjoying everything the world has to offer.
For more information on Cure Kids and the Burn Support Group or to donate to their worthy causes, visit their websites.