Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Badly burned toddler's family recovering from double blow

Arna Hopkins is to have more surgery to her burns this year.
Arna Hopkins is to have more surgery to her burns this year.

The fact they're in good spirits and are as positive as they are now is just a credit to them. It's quite incredible. Coping with the stares from other children can be tough, but 3-year-old Arna Hopkins has come a long way.

The toddler was severely burned in September while mimicking her parents by lighting a candle in memory of her dead twin sister.

Mila Hopkins died a month earlier from a Down syndrome-related illness.

Arna suffered burns to half her body and spent almost six weeks in intensive care at Middlemore Hospital having multiple skin grafts.

It was a tragic double blow that would test the Hopkins' family resolve to the limit.

While Arna still lives with daily pain from her healing skin grafts and will have more operations this year, the family are making progress.

"Within herself, she's a lot better. She's starting to get her spirits back, which is really nice," family spokesman Kane Hopkins, Arna's uncle, said this week.

Arna is being helped along the road to recovery by the loving fun of her brother Seb, 5, and 6-year-old sister Claudia. They're able to "do some more normal stuff", playing together on the family farm near Martinborough in the Wairarapa, and are even enjoying a family holiday away.

But it's been hard work, and the family know there's still a long way to go.

Arna's parents - her mother, Penny, is a teacher, and father, Regan, a farmer - massage the scar tissue daily, which is painful for the toddler.

She has also had infections, which Mr Hopkins says were expected.

Where her joints were burned, the scarring was "very painful". .

Regan Hopkins knows something of her suffering, as his fingers and hands were badly burned trying to save Arna when her clothes caught alight.

"I was talking to my brother about his injuries on his fingers and hands, and he said the nerve damage, which you don't see, is where a lot of the pain is for them," he said.

"From early next year she'll be looking at further surgery, and that will continue for the next couple of years at least."

The wider Hopkins family have been amazed at the resilience of Arna's parents.

They're enjoying a break away, which Mr Hopkins said was crucial for them.

"They've been hit by a series of things, Mila ... and then Arna, and a few other things that have happened.

"The fact they're in good spirits and are as positive as they are now is just a credit to them. It's quite incredible."

He said they were with family and friends over Christmas and NewYear.

"For them, it's a pretty important time, to reconnect with others after being quite insular this year."

A Support for Arna Fund was set up to help the family with travel and accommodation costs after the accident.

Mr Hopkins said the generosity of the local community, including from people the family didn't even know, was "quite overwhelming".

"They've been completely and utterly humbled by it."


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