Girl whose whole family died in motorway horror speaks of her extraordinary recovery... and how she plans to be back in high heels for her wedding.
Emma Barton had bruising on the brain, two collapsed lungs, five broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, crushed foot and her spleen was removed. She lost her father and sister in the motorway disaster.
To Chris Burbull, Emma Barton is far more than simply the woman he plans to marry next summer – she is a living, breathing miracle. Even as he holds her hand in the sitting room of their home, he struggles to take his eyes off the extraordinarily determined young woman he came so desperately close to losing.
Last month, the couple, Emma’s father Michael and her elder sister Maggie were driving home on the M5 in Somerset after attending a family funeral when they were caught up in a horrific pile-up involving 34 vehicles. Seven people, including Michael and Maggie, died and a further 51 were hurt. It was one of the worst traffic accidents in Britain. Police are still investigating whether fog or smoke drifting over the motorway from a fireworks display in nearby Taunton contributed to the disaster.
Emma was left critically injured when, during the incident, a lorry collided with the Ford Fiesta in which she, Chris, Michael and Maggie were travelling. As she lay unconscious in the intensive care unit at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, Chris issued a heart-wrenching plea to his fiancee on her Facebook page. ‘Baby please pull through. I can’t live without you,’ he wrote. ‘I love you so much – please, for me.’ Of all the tragic stories to emerge after the catastrophe, it was perhaps the plight of Emma that most caught the public’s imagination. She was just 13 when her mother Teresa died from a brain tumour and now she had lost her father and sister.
But despite that and her own extensive injuries, Emma’s recovery since that dark day has been nothing short of remarkable. Although it was feared she might need to spend 12 months in hospital, she returned home a mere three weeks after the crash.
‘When I first saw Emma lying there in her hospital bed it ripped me to pieces,’ says Chris, 23. ‘She wasn’t moving. She had all these pipes and drips coming out of her body. I prayed to anyone who was looking down for her to pull through. ‘Words can’t explain what I felt when she first opened her eyes again. My heart jumped. It was like someone suddenly knocking on your door when you’re on the verge of losing everything, and saying, “By the way, here’s £5 million – you’ve won the lottery.” ’
Charity worker Emma, 19, takes up the story: ‘They told me I was pretty much dead when I came in. ‘I had bruising on the brain, two collapsed lungs, five broken ribs, my pelvis was fractured in two places, my foot was crushed and my spleen had to be removed. ‘Everyone is so shocked at my recovery – not even the doctors can believe it.’