FOR months she had planned the trip of a lifetime to Africa.
But just 24 hours after arriving for a summer placement volunteering in Ghana, Phyll Swift was left scarred for life in a horrific road accident.
The mini bus she was travelling in crashed into a coach and the Bournemouth student suffered severe injuries to her face, a fractured spine, broken hip and a dislocated elbow.
However today, just six months after the horror crash, the 22-year-old is determined to remain positive.
Phyll says she is lucky to be alive and remarkably, would not turn back time saying the crash has made her realise life can be cut short in an instant and that appearance cannot be the measure of human worth.
She said: “I don’t like to dwell on it because it could have been so much worse. I am a believer in things happening for a reason and determined something good will come of this.
“It has put everything into perspective for me and has made me question everything.
"Frankly, I just feel so lucky to be alive and to have the friends and family I do. The accident taught me to appreciate everything I have as it could be taken away in seconds."
Phyll, a model making student at Arts University Bournemouth, was due to volunteer with schoolchildren for the summer when her trip was dramatically cut short.
She had only been there a day when she left for a weekend safari trip with a group of seven people.
However, that trip turned to disaster when the mini bus crashed into a coach at about 4am and Phyll was abruptly woken up.
“I was completely disorientated," she said.
"It was like a nightmare. I asked a girl next to me ‘what’s happening?’
“I felt my face and my hand was covered in blood. The girl grabbed my hand and held it tightly to stop me grabbing my face.
“I didn’t know if we would get out of there."
“From what I can understand, the mini bus tried to overtake whilst there was a coach coming the other way. The side I was sitting on was the worst.”
A passenger flagged down a passing coach which took the injured passengers to a remote hospital where Phyll recalls having her face stitched up on a metal table in the waiting room to stem the bleeding.
The next day she was transferred to a larger hospital where surgeons re-stitched her face.
“The hospital is exactly what you’d imagine it to be. The first, one of the girls banged on the door and had to turn the light on. I had to request x-rays on parts of my body that were in pain to find out why. It made me incredibly grateful for the NHS.”
Phyll’s mobile phone was left undamaged in the crash so she was able to phone her parents and liaise with her insurance company.
Six days later she flew back to the UK, where was reunited with her parents and taken to hospital in her home town of Chester.
There, it was discovered she had injuries that had not been discovered such as a broken hip, fractured spine – and was told she would be scarred for life.
Phyll, whose older brother tragically died in a road crash when he was just 17, said: "I could have easily never left the house again but I have an amazing network of family and friends around me which made me realise it just didn't matter what I looked like.
“Anyone who does consider my face to be an issue, I simply don't want them in my life."
After two months at home with her parents, she returned to Bournemouth.
At first, she said she tried to change her appearance by dressing differently and changed her hair - but soon realised her scars were now part of her identity.
“It made me question everything at first but then I realised nothing had actually changed."
Now she is working closely with Changing Faces, the charity for people and families who are living with conditions, marks or scars that affect the appearance of their face or body, to stop any stigma about disfigurement.
“There needs to be a serious shift in attitudes. We’re not born that way.
“A couple of guys in London were muttering under their breathe ‘have you seen that girl’s face?’
“I’ve had kids come up to me and they are genuinely interested. One boy in the doctors said ‘who did that to you?’
"I said ‘no one did it to me, don’t worry’. I'd much prefer people spoke to me like that rather than stare. Kids then hit the age where they are made to think scars are evil and scary but every scar tells a story.
“It’s so important to change people’s perceptions. It’s such a warped world we live in there are people who have far worse conditions I do and yet are subject to so much cruel abuse. There is more to life than looks and we may look different but we are still the same people."
For more information go to changingfaces.org.uk