Breaking News
More () »

UT student burned at party shares her story for first time

University of Toledo cross country runner Janelle Noe's life changed forever after she was severely burned at house party last January. Now, she's sharing her side of the story for the first time.
(Source: Janelle Noe)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - University of Toledo cross country runner Janelle Noe's life changed forever after she was severely burned at house party last January.

"It's a life changing day and not for the good," Janelle said.

That day - Jan. 15, 2016 - A day UT senior Janelle Noe will never forget.

"Earlier that day, I had just completed my second workout since October running, because I had a stress fracture in my foot," she said. "The next week I was supposed to run in my first track meet since my freshman year, so I was getting excited for that."

But late that afternoon Janelle says she got a text from fellow student-athlete Christopher Housel about a house party at his off-campus home, asking her if she wanted to come over.

"I figured a couple other girls that didn't go to the meet were going to be there, so I get there," she said. "I don't drink, so I always go there as a self-proclaimed DD. And then hang out while I'm there."

It was a decision that would alter her life forever. 

Janelle says she wasn't even at the party an hour when the night took a turn for the worse.

"He (Housel) took air freshener, and he was trying to light that on fire. And I told him like stop it, you're an idiot. You're going to catch the house on fire basically," Janelle said.

But Housel didn't stop.

"Then next thing I know, he's like walking in through the living room archway into another room. And he was walking towards me, and he had a candle, like this big lit candle in his hand. And down to his side, he was carrying a bottle of Everclear, which he had told me earlier that night, because I didn't know what it was, that it was basically gasoline. And so the next thing I know, he like poured it on to the candle, and I was on fire. That's all I remember," she said.

Janelle says she heard people screaming to stop, drop and roll while her clothing went up in flames. A friend eventually stepped in and ripped her shirt off to help while others used a blanket to put out the fire.

"I felt like my body was not necessarily melting away, but just like feeling everything closing in. And I just felt like I was being suffocated. I was conscious the entire time; I remember trying to scream and not being able to," Janelle said.

Janelle was taken by ambulance to the burn unit at Mercy Saint Vincent. More than 50 percent of her body was covered in second, third and what doctors call "third degree deep burns" - or the most severe.

"The ones up here on my chest were the deepest, and my neck, and they were concerned about those a lot. They said that if I would've burned seconds longer, I would've died, because the skin's so thin there and you have all your vital organs right in this area," she said.

But it wasn't until she was home from the hospital, trying to resume everyday life, that the reality of what happened sank in.

"I remember getting out of the bath tub some times and seeing myself and being like, thinking like, I look like a monster basically," Janelle said.

And from there, Janelle says the negative thoughts would spiral.

"I just remember feeling sad and hopeless that things weren't going to turn around. And how the struggles would be for the next, you know, two, three, four years ahead. Like, I can't go out in the sun. It was just a combination of how I looked and what the future would hold for me and how long is it going to take before things are semi back to normal," she said.

Christopher Housel was sentenced to four months in jail and community service in a burn unit. And while he will be out of jail in a few months, Janelle will live with the scars he caused for the rest of her life.

"Yeah that's a few years of his life, and I'm not him I don't know what his thoughts are after the fact," Janelle said. "But I'm hoping that it will affect him just as long as it has and will affect me - Either positively that he won't do something like that again or in a way that he has to think about it every day like I kind of have to."

Regardless of whether the thoughts will scar his mind the way they've scarred Janelle's body, she's not letting what happened stop her from pursuing her passions.

Whether it's the park, a neighborhood or the track, all surfaces can be considered Janelle's sanctuary. Her distraction from the pain, the scars and her new normal.

"Things are bad, but I try not to let that consume me while I'm running, because that's one outlet that I have to not have to think about it all the time," she said.

While January 15, 2016 will forever be a life changing day for Janelle, mentally, emotionally and physically, it's not stopping her from trying to get back to life as she once knew it -- using the future as a source of strength.

"In the future, like looking into the future, I try and think of like OK a year from now it'll be this much better," Janelle says. "I live in the present, but I also live in the future thinking about how it will get better, and just having a drive to not let it have limits set on myself because of it and just trying to get back out there."

That included getting back to one of her passions - running.

"I remember when the doctor gave me the OK to start running. He said I think the main thing you need to do is go run. It made me happy," Janelle said. "I went home that day, and I just jogged around my yard as long as I could."

Jogging around the yard turned into running around the neighborhood, which led to local festival runs, and then finally competing again for the Rockets.

But this ray of hope for Janelle came with struggles of its own.

"The hardest part, I think, was trying to get back to doing normal stuff and trying to deal with some of the limitations I had," Janelle said. "I didn't like having limits put on myself."

Running didn't just help the healing process physically.

"Even though it's frustrating sometimes, it helps mentally too, to think wow at the beginning of this year I never thought I'd be able to do it again, but here I am, and my coach has to constantly remind me that it's a blessing that you're even out here like being able to do this," Janelle said.

And for her teammates who've been by her side since the incident, they say Janelle's strength speaks to her character.

"I can't even put into words the way that she's just come up, persevered through all this." says Janelle's roommate and teammate Marissa Rossetti. "Honestly, like for me, I didn't expect that at all. Like there were moments, like little milestones that she had, that I was extremely happy about too, because I just didn't expect it,"

For them, she's an inspiration.

"We wake up in the morning and we're like wow, we're going to go run. She wakes up in the morning and she's already tired, exhausted, who knows what she's going through, and she's out here doing the same thing or more than what I'm doing every day," Rosetti said. "I can't put into words how it's affected me."

But running is just a portion of getting back in her routine, Janelle is also back to working on getting her degree in physical therapy.

"Life's gonna be different now, and it's not going to be the same, and I have to try and accept that and hope that in the upcoming years it will get better, and I will just, not necessarily move on because I don't think I ever will be able to, but just to learn how to live my life the way I am now," Janelle said.

While Janelle's comeback story is still in the early stages, as the slogan goes that's been used all throughout Janelle's recovery, "she believed she could so she did."

And she will. 

"You can't put limits on yourself. If something bad happens you can't always dwell on it forever. Like of course you have a right to be frustrated or angry, but like it gives you a new opportunity to inspire other people and that's what I try to do," Janelle says. "Try and just like make the most out of what I can do."