Meet the woman who rose to become a beauty queen despite 3rd degree burns from childhood accident

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Danielle Nelson. Image by Mediadrumworld
Danielle Nelson. Image by Mediadrumworld
  • Certified medical assistant, Danielle Nielson, sustained severe injuries that led to parts of her body being amputated when she was a child.
  • Throughout her life, she has undergone numerous surgeries and doctor's visits to manage her condition.
  • When she was in school, it proved to be an unpleasant experience as she was always treated differently, with some children even fearing her touching them.
  • She's since learnt to find pockets of happiness among the pain, has a 3-year-old son and won a beauty pageant.
  • Here is Danielle's story.

Certified medical assistant Danielle Nielson (30) from Highland, Utah, USA, was adopted into a huge family, becoming one of 15 siblings.

With the house so busy, it fell upon Danielle’s older brother Michael (42), who was 12 at the time to give then 13-month-old Danielle her evening bath.

On Christmas Eve 1991, Michael told Danielle’s two older sisters Natasha (34) and Samantha (34), to take their younger sister upstairs to the bathroom and wait for him there. However, getting impatient, the two four-year-old sisters decided to put Danielle into the bath themselves – dropping her into near-boiling water.

“Immediately, I went into shock from the heat of the water, so they had no idea anything was happening until my skin started melting off,“ she shares.

Danielle’s sisters finally alerted her father, who quickly pulled her out of the water.

READ MORE | The new face of an Avon beauty campaign is a burn survivor

Immediately rushed to hospital in an ambulance, doctors did not expect Danielle to survive the first night, but miraculously she did.

“I had my right foot and left little finger amputated. I also had endless skin grafts to repair my exposed flesh. The doctors told my mum that even with a prosthetic, I probably wouldn’t walk for two years, if at all, Danielle shares. “I got my first prosthetic shortly after being released from the hospital, and I was walking two weeks later. I had physical therapy multiple times a day for years."

Danielle developed anxiety as a child and was terrified of sleeping. During primary school, children would avoid touching Danielle, and she would constantly realise that strangers were staring at her.

Danielle on life as a burnt victim

All images: / @beauty_int/ Magazine Features

“Growing up with a prosthetic was hard on my body. Because of the damage done to my muscles and joints from the burns, my knee with the prosthetic has been through a lot. My kneecap dislocates if I don’t pay attention to my foot placement or slip," Danielle explains.

“It got the point that the tendons got so stretched out that the slightest wrong move would knock it out. Once I was old enough to realise I was different and couldn’t do everything my peers were doing, I definitely had a hard time. I remember being a kid and other kids going to hand me something and saying don’t touch me. “When it really started to get hard was junior high, around age thirteen."

High school proved to be particularly tough, and Danielle avoided dating until she went to college for fear of what boys would say about her scars. On several occasions, boys Danielle plucked up the courage to talk to ghosted her after realising she had a prosthetic leg.

“Boys during high school are superficial. All you care about as a teenager is your appearance, and I was very different from everyone. I’ve had people make grossed outlooks at the pool if I take my prosthetic off," Danielle shares.

However, despite these challenges, Danielle has been determined to live life to the full and loves extreme sports, including jet-skiing, paddle boarding and boating. Since college, Danielle has found the confidence in herself to date and even got married in 2017.

While the relationship recently ending in divorce, Danielle has son Thomas (3) from the marriage. She is currently in no rush to find someone new but knows she will have the confidence to do so when the time is right.

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Danielle on life as a burnt victim

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In 2020, Danielle acquired the crown of Miss South Jordan and has the dream of competing for the Miss America crown - something she would never have had the confidence to do in her younger years.

“Even though my body was different from everyone else’s, I always had friends. They didn’t care that I was disabled and loved me for me. My family and friends have always been so incredibly supportive. Their support and love helped me to speak out and advocate for others struggling with body image issues due to their disabilities," she says fondly.

"So I set up a body positivity and mental health awareness page on Instagram to bring representation to those living with disabilities and showing them they can do anything they set their mind to."

READ MORE | Why some survivors of gender-based violence and rape prefer not to report their cases

Danielle on life as a burnt victim

Danielle still suffers from the anxiety she felt as a child and was formally diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder in 2015. However, she is determined to use her newfound confidence and status as a beauty queen to raise awareness and to help others who are facing the same difficult challenges she has faced herself.

“This incident completely changed my life in every single way,” says Danielle. “I was always in survival mode trying to prove I was just like everyone else, even when this was an impossible task. My independence and resilience are my greatest strengths as well as my greatest weaknesses. I don’t always know when to ask for help, and I’m insanely stubborn.

“I’m still learning to find a balance. I face unique and difficult challenges every day, but overall my life is great.

“For those who are struggling with body confidence issues or from a disability, just know that you are more than a body. You are a survivor. Remember to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to shine. Chase your dreams, and the right people will stay by your side.”

Credit: / @beauty_int/ Magazine Features

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