Amazing Stacy

Reporter: Monika Kos

“I think burns are the most horrific thing you can ever experience in your life, its like skin, having layers of skin, literally burnt off. It's just hell on earth; it was the worst experience I've ever been through in my life” Stacey says.

Glamorous... Confident... Queen of the dance floor.

But within a few short months of this national television competition, Stacey Larson was in turmoil.. burned beyond belief.

Stacey says “All my life I was this pretty ballroom dancer and all of a sudden I was a freak in a burns suit, I looked like a crash dummy.”

Stacey was deliberately set alight... a terrible attack that shocked the dance world, and outraged a nation. The man responsible was her partner on the dance floor... and her partner in life. “I really do think that he was like showing me that he and the power that he could light me up.”

Stacey Larson and Michael Withers had been dancing together only three weeks when this video was taken... there was promise of an impressive partnership. They eventually married... but soon, the dramas began.

A Rivervale home unit, November twenty-nine, 1994... An hour long argument, ordered outside, doused with petrol... Stacey's world as she knew it, ended.

Stacey says “I walked out there and I just sort of said, you know you need to settle down and what are you doing and then, before I knew it, the petrol went all over me and he basically told me that he was going to burn me alive.”

“I remember tipping my head forward as it all ran down over my head and then he continued to walk around me and just kept splashing it on me... although I froze, I didn't do anything, I think I just couldn't believe that he's done that anyway.”

Stacey says Withers took a cigarette lighter... held her t-shirt... demanded she look him in the eye... and then...

“And once he ignited the flame, the fumes just took over and I mean he even swore and yelled out what he'd done, like he couldn't believe it himself that he'd actually done it.” Stacey fell to the ground, and tried to smother the flames.

“believe it or not, the tap was just like right where he'd lit me up was where the tap was, If I'd just moved him out the way I could have probably been put out a lot earlier than what I was.”

Stacey says “on fire, no pain, not one bit of pain but the sun, once I was sort of standing there dripping of water, then the nerve endings started to kick in and the sun was really burning me, but I probably realised it was probably my burns that were burning me more.”

Stacey's injuries were massive, so extreme, ambulance officers made her walk to the vehicle because they feared touching her would make it worse. Stacey had no idea of the extent of the damage... no idea her life was in the balance.

“then the doctor took my parents out and I do remember him saying that they needed permission to give me a tracheotomy if I keep swelling during the night and I'd been inhalation burned you know I'm quite upper body burned which is quite dangerous and that I may not live the next twenty-four hours, and that was like probably the best thing I ever heard because it was like, like hell he's going to kill me you know.” Third degree burns to sixty percent of her body... the prognosis wasn't good.

Surgeon Mark Duncan-Smith says the first twenty-four hours were critical... it was imperative Stacey get plenty of fluids. “Because the patient loses a lot of fluid into their body and into the actual burn, then they become very dehydrated very quickly. If that doesn't occur, then effectively what happens is they lose all of the fluid out of their blood volume and then their blood pressure goes down, their kidneys shut down and then they start to go into a spiral of multi organ failure and eventually death.”

Stacey's treatment was more excruciating than the burns... two months in hospital, seven skin grafts, and reconstructive surgery on her arms... Stacey went home in a full pressure suit; to keep her new skin in place... she wore it every single day for two years. Michael Withers was charged with attempted murder... In October 96, Stacey re-lived the whole horrible ordeal in court.

“I reckon it was worse than being burnt, I really do in emotion wise, because you're the victim but he's innocent until proven guilty, but I just can't believe how much they victimise the victim.”

Withers was convicted and jailed for eleven years... but served only four and half.

Stacy says “attempted murder, four and a half years, it's just not long enough when I've got a life sentence of scars.”

Today, Stacey's life is well and truly back on track. While most of us might have been crushed by this awful experience, Stacy's just been all the more determined to make her life as normal as possible. “I'd love to wear a bikini because I've got the body to wear a bikini but I just don't have the skin, so I wear board shorts and I've got a special sun-suit made. When I play netball all the opposition girls that don't know what I've been through often comment on the amount of makeup that I wear when I play netball and that I'm wearing long sleeves in the middle of summer and like aren't you hot, and it's like yeah I am hot but I've been burned and I've got scars.”

These days Stacey's making other people look glamorous... She's built up a thriving business as a mobile hairdresser. Stacey's also re-married and has two beautiful children. She's asked us to respect their privacy, to shield them from the public's glare. “My daughter knows a naughty man doused mummy in petrol and set me alight all I'm thankful for is that it wasn't her daddy that did it so we didn't have to explain that.

And while Stacey's would love to get back on the dance floor... her attacker, her ex-husband, now free for nearly five years, is back in Perth's ballrooms.... Stacey has recovered and moved on.

“Dancing you're sort of kind of in a bit of a cloud and you think you're a bit of a prima Donna and now that I've had this done to me I realise that I'm just as normal as everyone else, and yeah, I think it's made me a better person for it.”