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Burns victim Sophie Delezio is taking over the world

The little girl who suffered burns to 85 per cent of her body when a car slammed into her daycare centre has grown into an incredible young woman.
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Sophie, the little girl who won Australia’s heart with her bravery and endurance after a horrific car accident at a Sydney daycare centre in 2003, is about to turn her childhood dream of moving to London into a reality.

After completing high school last year, Sophie has applied for entrance to study sociology and international relations at no less than five top-ranking English universities, four of them in London.

Her choices mean she must now forge a new life for herself in a new city and a new country – half a world away from the comfortable and supportive upbringing that she experienced at her family’s home on Sydney’s North Shore.

Sophie is excited for her studies, aiming for a career giving back. (Image: Julie Adams)

“Yes, a part of me is a little nervous about moving away,” says Sophie, the daughter of Ron Delezio, a former electrician, and his wife Carolyn Martin, a teacher.

“I will miss my family and my friends but at the same time there is a sense of anticipation that is almost overwhelming. It’s as though I am finally getting an opportunity to spread my wings and sample everything that the world has to offer – but on my terms and in my own way. It’s an adventure.”

Like all true adventures, there is an element of risk. This will be Sophie’s first attempt at coping with her intricate and complicated medical regime by herself.

Even so, she feels that she is ready. Sophie has spent the past two years grappling with those medical complexities, readying herself for this moment.

Brother Mitchell and parents Carolyn and Ron are all excited for Sophie’s next chapter. (Image: Julie Adams)

Sophie’s medical needs are many. Every day she needs to change the dressings on a variety of minor wounds to her skin caused by rubbing and friction from her artificial lower legs. Infection is a major concern for burns patients with grafted skin. It is an ever-present danger. Sophie’s dressing always includes a silver-impregnated dressing to speed healing.

The most critical areas are just below her knee joints where her legs fit into the prosthetic limbs. By necessity they are a tight fit, and sudden movement often causes tears in her fragile skin. Yet, despite this, Sophie is most often up and moving on her legs instead of relying on her wheelchair.

“I know the routine backwards and forwards,” says Sophie. “I know where every single piece of dressing is in my cupboard, how to apply and when. The only thing I sometimes can’t do is wind a bandage around a part of my leg if it’s at an odd angle. Then I might need a little help, but otherwise I am self-sufficient.”

Sophie says she is fully equipped to look after her own medical needs. (Image: Julie Adams)

Her father Ron, 65, says Sophie is more than ready for this new challenge.

“Sophie is a very determined young woman,” says Ron.

“She has had to be determined and strong all her life. After everything that she has endured in the past 15 years, her just being alive is a testament to how determined she really is. She has had a plan to live overseas for at least a couple of years and she’s been quietly working toward that goal the entire time.”

“Her injuries are such that she needs constant treatment from a team of surgical and burns-care specialists. In the past 15 years, she’s probably had more than 100 operations to adjust the skin grafts that cover her body. That an incredible amount of surgery for anyone to have, let alone a teenager who is trying to live life the best she can. Yet we’ve let her assume the responsibility for most of the regime herself in recent years. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her. She’s incredible.”

Brother Mitchell admits he’s anxious for his sister. (Image: Julie Adams)

That Sophie is alive at all is nothing short of a miracle after suffering burns to 85 per cent of her body when a car slammed into her daycare centre on December 11, 2003. In the days that followed, Sophie teetered between life and death. Yet somehow, she held on through weeks of intense treatment.

“Sophie has no recollection of the accident or the weeks that followed,” says Ron. “We believe that those memories are simply too awful to come to the surface. I’ve often thought it’s a blessing that she doesn’t have to live with those memories.”

As if that wasn’t enough, fate intervened a second time in Sophie’s life.

On May 5, 2006, she was severely injured a second time when she was struck by a car as she crossed the road in her wheelchair.

Sophie was thrown 18 metres down the road by the impact. She suffered a broken jaw, a broken shoulder, as well as bruising to her brain and head. All her ribs on the right side of her body were broken and pushed into her lungs.

Carolyn is incredibly proud of Sophie. (Image: Julie Adams)

“To this day, Sophie has lost her sense of smell,” says Ron.

“Yet – and this is really unusual – she can still taste food. As I have always said, sometimes a little good comes out of something bad. Just after the first accident, she was very badly injured and there was no way to know if she would survive. The doctor asked us if we would prefer to turn off the life support machines.

“We said: ‘How do we know how to answer that? How do we know, if we switch the machine off, whether we’re doing the right thing? Or whether, if we don’t switch the machine off, her life is going to be a very poor quality and a lot of pain all the way through?

“He advised us to sit and look at Sophie, to go to Sophie and ‘see if you get that answer from her’. And that’s what we did.

Today, we have a lovely, vivacious and tenacious young woman who we’ve had in our lives for 15 years and is now about to go out into the world and live her life. That’s something good.”

To read the full article with Sophie, pick up a copy of the April 2019 issue of Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

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