Burned, not broken: An inspiring story of survival

Burned, not broken: An inspiring story of survival

WEST FRANKFORT, IL (KFVS) - "I love who I am now, took me a long time to get here and I fought like hell to get here," said Tessa Ratajczyk.

A lot can change in four years.

Tessa Ratajczyk no longer hides behind shame and scars.

"For a long time I wore it like a shield, like a wall to keep everyone out," said Tessa. "Now I feel like my scars are armor."

In 2012, she spiraled out of control. A painful divorce left her in a pit of despair.

"I was devastated, I didn't have my daughter," she said. "I felt like I was living without my heart and soul and nothing mattered to me."

The 22 year old turned to drugs.

"I was addicted to meth," said Tessa. "Going to bed alone and waking up alone was devastating. Getting high on meth I didn't worry."

Her new relationship became violent.

"It got to the point where I couldn't fight back anymore."

She wanted out.

"I was in the shower one night and remember breaking down crying and I just prayed...I prayed I could get out of it all just somehow get back to my daughter and start over."

She said God answered that prayer, just not in the way she could ever imagine.

In August of 2012, Tessa made the decision to put an end to the abuse and change her life.

She returned to the home where the couple was living in West Frankfort.

"I opened the screen and got my hand on the main door and I hear him pull up in his motorcycle," said Tessa. "I got that gut-wrenching feeling...turn around, it's just clothes. It doesn't matter. I didn't listen to my instincts."

She said she tried to leave, but her boyfriend would not let her.

"I said you don't have to make life such hell, not for me or everyone else in it."

She said he made her sit in a recliner, then she said she looked and he was standing over her with industrial strength brake cleaner.

"He said, I'll show you hell, I will put you there," said Tessa. "He went to douse me. I put my arms up. He doused me once, twice...as I brought my hands down he lit a lighter."

"I just went, whoosh...went up in flames. I stood up and screamed."

Flames shot through the house.

"I had a moment where I was like, this is it I'm dead...I'm dying," said Tessa. "I ran to the back yard to get on the grass and rolled around and put myself out. Standing there I saw my hands. My fingers were curling and melting."

The ambulance arrived and from there, her memories fade.

"Nobody expected me to make it. Doctors gave me a 30 percent chance."

Her hands had 4th degree burns. She was in a coma for two months.

When she woke up, reality hit.

"I was like, how am I ever going to do anything. How am I going to live on my own?"

She couldn't get out of bed, she couldn't feed herself and the pain was constant.

Then one day she made the decision to take back her life.

"When I got up and walked after them telling me I couldn't I knew I could do anything," said Tessa.

She endured 18 surgeries including the amputations of her fingers.

Scars cover most of her body.

"I knew I was going to figure it out. It wasn't an option not to."

With her ex-boyfriend, Christopher Rollins, now serving a 30-year prison sentence she could move on.

But, paralyzed with fear, she wondered if she would ever be able to trust anyone again.

That's until Randy Ratajczyk stepped into the picture.

"I knew right away she was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with," said Randy Ratajczyk.

"It's like he never saw my scars," said Tessa. "As I was worried about it, it was nothing to him."

Last March, they got married.

"I love her with all my heart, forever and then a couple of days," said Randy Ratajczyk.

They now have a son together, 8-month-old Jude.

Eight-year-old Patience, her daughter who she missed so desperately, is also back in her life.

Today, they take nothing for granted, refusing to miss any more moments.

"She's an awesome mom," said Patience.

Back in West Frankfort, there's nothing left of the home where Tessa almost died.

There are so many memories she will never be able to erase.

"Being able to be here and see that house is gone feels good," said Tessa.

So much has changed.

"I didn't realize at the time, but I realize it now that this is the miracle I prayed for," said Tessa.

Tessa is now on a mission to empower other women.

"It's about giving hope and letting people know, don't stay...don't wait. You're better, you deserve better."

She hopes others will hear her story and get out of dangerous relationships before it's too late.

"I remember being in that situation, you feel so hopeless and worthless and useless," said Tessa. "You almost feel like you deserve it. Why would I love this man, obviously I deserve this. No, no, no, no, no, no a million times no. Nobody deserves that, nobody deserves to live in fear."

Tessa said she could not have gotten through the last four years without strong family and friend support.

"Literally went to her house and got her out of bed," said Kori Sanders.

Kori refused to let Tessa sit and home and feel sorry for herself.

She told her how beautiful she was, and how important she was.

Both friends ended up inspiring each other.

"It's just amazing to see someone come out on the other side and be a whole person again, and not be broken," said Sanders.

Tessa is so grateful for her second chance.

"I used to be a meth head who didn't have anything to do with my child," said Tessa. "I'm an amazing mother and wife now. You can get here."

Below is a list of local women's shelters. Click on the name of the location to take you directly to the website for a shelter near you.

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