How Marissa turned her severe burn wounds into beautiful body art

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Marissa Ellett has her confidence back. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
Marissa Ellett has her confidence back. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
  • Marissa Ellett (32), a special education teacher from Michigan in the US, was cooking dinner at home when her shirt caught fire.
  • Her arms and armpits sustained fourth-degree burns, and her chest, back and right hip sustained third-degree burns.
  • She decided to cover her scars in tattoos, taking control of her pain and emotional trauma in the process.

This woman has transformed the scars on her body into beautiful art. After sustaining burn wounds on 80 per cent of her body after a cooking accident, she has revealed how she transformed her scars into the most magnificent £7 000 (R130 550) tattoo work of body art.

In 2019, Marissa Ellett (32), a special education teacher from Michigan in the US, was cooking dinner at home, boiling water to make alfredo and putting the dishes away, when she became aware of a strange smell. She saw her shirt catch fire. She tried to spray water on it, but it didn't work and her entire shirt became engulfed in seconds. 

tattoo, women, burn survivor
Marissa Ellett. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
Supplied Photo: mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett

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She managed to walk to her deck and spray water over her body to extinguish the fire. Marissa ripped off her shirt and went back inside, where she saw her skin hanging and her bone exposed. She called her parents, who lived 10 minutes away, and they rushed her to the hospital. She was in incredible pain and begged the ER staff to put her out of her misery. 

"When you are in a situation where you literally might die in seconds, you gain a clear head and fight for your life. I remember saying, 'Please, God, I don't want to die, and please not my face!'"

burn survivor, tattoo
Marissa had third and fourth degree burns on her body. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
Photo: mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett

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"I walked out onto my deck and turned my hose on and was able to put the flames out for the most part, and my face was untouched. I ripped off my shirt and flew it across the deck, praying the deck wouldn't catch fire. I went back inside, looked at myself in the mirror, and saw my skin hanging down and part of my bone exposed. I had so much adrenaline at this point that I did not feel any pain yet," Marissa recalls.

Burns covered her body, destroying every layer of her skin. Her arms and armpits sustained fourth-degree burns, and her chest, back and right hip sustained third-degree burns.

The burns were later wrapped in gauze and she had to have two daily dressing changes to reduce the risk of sepsis and infection. 

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The first surgery she underwent was to remove dead and damaged skin in a process called debridement. She then received skin grafts on all areas of her burns. For the third-degree burns, donor skin was used to patch the skin. Her fourth-degree burns were patched and stapled.

In total, 80% of Marissa's body became an open wound due to donor sites. In May 2020, after eight months, Marissa had another skin graft to open up her muscles. She had undergone occupational therapy to stretch her range of motion because when burns heal, the skin hardens and becomes stiff, leading to pain and insomnia.

After two years, her pain stopped, but it reappeared a year later when a staple made its way out of her skin. She was also diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

burn survivor, confidence, tattoos
What was left of Marissa's clothes. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA

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"My brain is constantly on high alert, and my body and mind react when there is a possible threat of harm. My body was constantly in pain and I suffered from insomnia because of it. I also had a very limited range of motion and couldn't do the things I loved. After two years, the pain mostly went away," she says. 

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Adamant to turn her scars into something beautiful, Marissa decided in October 2021 to cover them in tattoos, taking control of her pain and emotional trauma. After two months and 58 hours, her tattoo was complete, at a cost of £7000 (R130 550). The tattoos brought back the control and confidence that Marissa had lost in the accident. 

Grateful for her parents and her surgeon for their support, she says: "They are the definition of great parents and how a parent's love is unconditional. I also look forward to my yearly visit with my surgeon. He saved my life, and I am so thankful that he was such a calm, supportive doctor for my family and me to work with. He is amazed at how far I have come.

"One of the best things to come out of this was meeting my husband. We were friends for a long time on Facebook, and he was always too shy to talk to me. After my accident became public, he finally had a reason to talk to me."

tattoo, women, burn survivor
Marissa Ellett has her confidence back. mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
Photo: mediadrumimages/MarissaEllett

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When she started to date her now husband, she was extremely nervous because her physical appearance had changed, and she was very insecure and in a lot of pain.

Marissa has had major changes that have made her life fuller, and the tattoos have helped a great deal in boosting her confidence, "I finished my piece in two months with a total of 58 hours of tattooing.

"Getting tattooed over my burns gave me control back over my life. Some spots did not hurt at all [and] actually felt great. Some spots, like in my armpits, felt like I was reliving my accident. The tattoo healing process felt like the tail end of my burns healing, which was crazy. It cost around £7 000 to finish my piece. Best money I have ever spent.

"Someday, I want to start a non-profit [organisation] to help pay for others to get tattooed over scars because it changed my life. Getting my tattoos boosted my confidence and how I felt about myself, and I couldn't imagine not having them."

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