“I was at a 21st birthday party in Deniliquin. Someone was playing with petrol around a campfire, I wasn’t really watching,” he says. “He started pouring it on the campfire. The fire went up towards the kettle of petrol, so he threw it, and I was on the other side. I was covered in two litres of burning petrol.
“The night it happened, they got an ambulance in about 10 minutes. I thought I was OK, but I got to the hospital and they said, ‘You’re not OK’, and they put me under. I woke up a couple of weeks later.”
Jake had suffered burns to 69 per cent of his body, and the weeks and months that followed were hellish. For two-and-half weeks, he was kept in an induced coma, which he remembers as “like living a nightmare every day”.
“In the coma I was on these crazy drugs, I can remember vivid dreams, like nightmares, over and over and over,” he says.
For his mum, it was a waking nightmare as she kept a vigil at the Alfred Hospital Burns Unit.
“I was in the hospital every day from six in the morning until about six or seven at night, then his dad would come and stay with him at night,” she says. “The Alfred was just amazing, they saved his life. Poor Jake had to put up with me in hospital with him all day, every day, seven days a week. He was struggling, I was struggling.”
Jake spent a further three months in hospital, but with so many open wounds, he was vulnerable to infection, such as golden staph. As soon as they were allowed, Roach chose to move him home to the South Yarra house he shares with older brother Paul.
“Because we could afford it, we had hospital in the home,” Janet says. “That went on for six to twelve months, with a further 12 months of rehabilitation.
“I found out about treatments in the private system, so as soon as he was together enough and I could take him to appointments, I pulled him out.”
Today, Jake says he is “a lot better,” but continues to have treatments, including facial injections to reduce the thickness of his scarring, and lasers to reduce redness.
“Every times he heals, he has another operation,” Roach says. “I can’t tell you how many he’s had, 30, 40, 50 operations. He’s sort of saying it’s the end.”
Jake remains friends with other burns victims he met in hospital, but was acutely aware that not everyone can afford the kind of treatment that has sped up his recovery. Because of this, he and Janet have started The Roach Foundation, which will offer financial aid towards the treatment burns victims.
“We knew everyone in the hospital really well, because we spent every day with them for months,” Janet says. “He stayed in touch with Facebook and stuff. He’d show me their photos and say ‘Look how they’re doing, isn’t it great?’
“But when I saw them, I realised Jake looked so much better. Jake’s been lucky, because he’s had early intervention. We’ve spent half a million dollars or something so far.
Most people couldn’t afford it, which is why we want to start this foundation.
“Imagine giving back to somebody in that situation a face that everybody sees … it would be great.”
“He’d lost his spark, he wasn’t that interested in anything. I was worried,” Roach says.
“Kids or people who are badly burnt, within the first 10 years are at risk of depression or suicide if they don’t have support. Life becomes so difficult. I was trying to get him motivated, because he’s a boy too, and they don’t tell you much.
“Ultimately he said, ‘You know what I’d really like to do? I’d like to start a foundation’.” We started 18 months ago.”
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