“Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t see me. I feel like I look like a monster...”
The heartbreaking words of a dedicated father and family man whose life was changed forever by an horrific incident.
It was October 2012 when Jumaa Karani, 25, suffered horrific burns after being engulfed in a huge fireball.
He has been left disfigured, with third and fourth degree burns across his body, after being caught in a gas explosion in the makeshift accommodation he was staying in, in Blackpool.
Mr Karani was a performer travelling with Gerry Cottle’s Wow! Circus, playing shows at Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Globe Theatre, and living in circus provided accommodation on a Marton industrial estate, when the accident happened.
The Kenyan-born performer suffered severe burns to 85 per cent of his body on October 23, 2012, and spent the following 12 months in hospital - two months of that in a coma in an intensive care unit.
That day, I thought I was going to die
Today he is thankful to be alive, but the father-of-one, says he is haunted by what he has lost and the fact he can no longer work to support his eight-year-old daughter Leah, based back in the Kenyan city of Mombasa.
And he says he is yet to see any financial compensation for the incident, which has cost him his career.
He said: “That day, I thought I was going to die.
“The doctors saved my life and I’m very thankful for that.
“I’m proud of surviving but now I feel like I look like a monster. Sometimes I look in the mirror but I don’t see me.
“And I can’t work. My job was my life.”
Mr Karani, who now lives on Lytham Road, South Shore, had worked as an acrobat since he was 15, travelling from his home nation to Saudi Arabia and the UK to perform, before joining circus owner Gerry Cottle’s company to be part of the Kenyan Warriors troupe.
He told how he was attempting to make food in his bedsit accommodation, within a converted articulated lorry parked on Burton industrial estate, when a gas leak caused a huge explosion within the confines of the cabin.
He said: “I was going to light the stove and as I did, fire flew up.
“I screamed. I felt so much pain. I tried to find the door to escape and I was screaming and screaming.
“I finally got out and I was shouting ‘please help me’.
“It burnt my whole body, my clothes were on fire and my hair was burned, I was covered in blisters.”
The former acrobat’s tall frame today bears the scars of his accident, including clear marks where the flames burned his vest on to his chest.
He was initially taken by ambulance to Royal Preston Hospital but quickly transferred to the specialist burns unit within Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester.
There he slipped into a coma, for two months, while his family, including his 21-year-old sibling Amani, were warned he might not live.
His brother said: “The doctors told us he might not make it, it was horrible, so painful to hear. We just had to pray he’d make it.
“I desperately didn’t want him to die.”
It took medics more than a dozen operations, using skin grafts and even considering taking grafts from his brother to reconstruct his body.
He remained in intensive care until January 2013 and tells how he was warned by nurses not to look as they carefully cleaned and dressed his devastating wounds.
Mr Karani then had to undergo months of intensive physiotherapy, having to exercise muscles damaged by the flames and make up for muscle wastage after months confined to a hospital bed.
Today he is reliant on dozens of tablets and a range of medication to ensure his skin repairs and to ease ongoing pain.
And he must limit his time spent in direct sunlight as his skin still blisters easily, meaning he would be at significant risk of further injury should he return to his native East African country.
He said: “The sun is so strong there and my skin can’t cope with that now.
“I wish I could still be an acrobat, I was so happy performing.
“I didn’t get to go to school so we taught ourselves acrobatics, it’s a fun job, I was strong then.”
He told how he is afraid to go out and says he feels like a “monster” when people ask what caused his disfigurement, and he suffers anxiety about his situation.
He said: “Now I feel like I look like a monster, I look so different. I feel bad about myself because I can’t do anything.
“I can’t work so it’s a wasted career, a wasted life.
“I wish I could go back to how I was, to be strong again.
“I’m happy to be alive but when I look at myself it brings me down, it’s so hard.
“The circus should have paid me compensation. They don’t want to help me to be me.”
Amani added: “He deserves that money, it’s money that’s been lost. If he hadn’t had that accident he could make his own money. It’s not his fault.”
The incident on October 2012 sparked an investigation by town hall bosses.
But Tim Coglan, Blackpool Council’s Service Manager for Public Protection, said: “After completing our investigation, there were no grounds for prosecution on this case.”