WAVING goodbye to her husband and young son as she popped out to the shop, mum Kelli Desousa had no idea of the horror that was about to unfold.

She’d left five-year-old Nicky playing with his new birthday present, a Nerf gun, in the garden while his dad Daniel built a bonfire nearby.

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Nicky Desousa accidentally set himself on fire while making a pretend bonfire[/caption]

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The youngster nearly died and is facing a long recovery[/caption]

Watching him stack up the logs, Nicky decided to make his own pile using the foam bullets from his toy.

Unbeknownst to Daniel, Nicky’s brother Max found the remains of a cup of petrol that his parents used to accelerate their bonfire on a table.

Nicky grabbed the cup and poured it on his mini-bonfire as his brother Max lit it, but some of the highly flammable liquid splashed on Nicky’s neck – and the youngster went up in flames.

Seeing his son on fire, Daniel rushed over and beat the flames with his bare hands in a desperate attempt to put them out, before rushing the lad to hospital.

Thankfully Nicky survived but he faces a long road to recovery and has been scarred for life.

Stay-at-home mum Kelly says: “That cup should’ve never been left out. My husband and I will regret our mistake for the rest of our lives.

“I hope this is a warning to other mums and dads to be extremely careful.

“At one point I thought I’d lose my son, but Nicky is a little fighter. I’m so proud of him.”

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Parents Kelli and Daniel say they’ll never forgive themselves for leaving the cup of petrol out. Pictured with Nicky and his siblings Leo, 10, Max, eight, Nicky and Mya, two[/caption]

Kelli, 33, from Picayune, Mississippi, was seven months pregnant when the harrowing incident happened in April this year.

Her and Daniel, 39, a Royal Marine, were already parents to Leo, 10, Max, eight, Nicky and Mya, two.

Kelli recalls: “Nicky was our youngest son and he was our world. That month we celebrated his fifth birthday.

“He was spoiled with loads of presents including a Nerf gun. He loved it.”

Three days later Kelli was cooking dinner for her family when she remembered she’d scheduled a food collection that afternoon.

That cup should’ve never been left out. My husband and I will regret our mistake for the rest of our lives

Kelli Desousa

Daniel was building a bonfire while their kids played in the garden, and Kelli told her family she’d be back in five minutes.

But when she arrived at the store, she received a panicked phone call from Daniel.

She recalls: “He was distraught. He said Nicky had had an accident and needed to go to hospital.

“Nicky had found some gasoline and had burned himself. Then I heard Nicky howling in the background.

“I was terrified. I dropped my shopping and sped back home.”


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Nicky spent months in hospital recovering[/caption]

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Kind strangers donated presents to him after his parents set up an Amazon wishlist[/caption]

As Kelli pulled onto the street she noticed Daniel’s truck. He slowed down and Kelli saw Nicky in the front seat, burned and bloody.

Horrified, she screamed at Daniel to keep driving and he sped to Highland Community Hospital, a few miles from their house.

There he was told Nicky had second and third degree burns on his face, neck and chest.

Kelli says: “As I was seven months pregnant and I had to watch the kids at home, I felt helpless.

“Daniel called and said Nicky’s asthma had caused his airways to close and he’d been sedated.

We should’ve been more careful. I felt like we’d failed our child. I was heartbroken

Kelli Desousa

“I couldn’t stop sobbing for my baby.”

Kelli adds that she was “mad at Daniel for not watching them properly”, but also angry at herself for letting the cup of petrol be left out.

“Daniel and I had always used gasoline to help ignite our bonfires,” she says.

“We should’ve been more careful. I felt like we’d failed our child. I was heartbroken.”

That night Nicky was air-lifted an hour away to a burns unit at University Medical Centre in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Touch and go

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Nicky has been left badly scarred[/caption]

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The little boy is undergoing rehabilitation therapy[/caption]

There, Kelli’s family was warned Nicky might not make it.

Kelli says: “Once my mum travelled over to take care of the kids, I rushed to Nicky’s side.

“When I saw him he was bandaged up and he had a tube down his throat.

“I was crying and told him Mummy was with him and that everything was going to be okay.

“Daniel was in a worse state than me. I knew the guilt was eating him up, too.”

Finally, after five days, Nicky woke up. Although he was confused at first, he eventually remembered what had happened.

Kelli says: “He said, ‘Tell Daddy I forgive him’ and my heart just melted. The next day, he said the same to Daniel.

“Daniel broke down in tears and hugged him. I knew our family was going to get through it.”

Long recovery

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Nicky told his dad he forgave him in hospital[/caption]

Sadly Nicky’s jawline down to his chest had been scorched, and he underwent numerous skin debridement and skin graft surgeries.

He had a large skin graft taken from his back and put onto his chest.

Due to being on an IV drip for so long, Nicky became very skinny and weak, but as he grew stronger he slowly learned how to move his arms and walk again.

Kelli says: “We made an Amazon wish-list for Nicky and within just a week, strangers from around the world bought the entire list.

“Every day we had hundreds of presents for Nicky to open.”

In June 2022, after two months in hospital, Nicky was finally able to go home.

Daniel was in a worse state than me. I knew the guilt was eating him up, too

Kelli Desousa

Now he’s still in a neck brace and Kelli and Daniel have to put creams on his burns every hour.

Kelli says: “He cries from the pain. It’s really hard for us to watch.

“He can still only whisper too, but he’s just started speech therapy which is going well.

“Other kids ask him about his scars. Nicky’s unsure what to say, so I step in and tell them he was hurt by fire.

“I’ve since given birth to another boy, Isaac. Nicky’s smitten with his new brother.

“After everything he’s been through, he’s doing amazing.”

Kelli adds: “Please, don’t leave accelerants around your house. More importantly, don’t buy them at all.

“They aren’t necessary for bonfires and are just a danger to your children.”

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Poor Nicky required skin graft surgery[/caption]

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Nicky pictured with his mum Kelli in hospital[/caption]

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