Having worn a mask for more than two years, she no longer knew what she looked like. That whole time she had been “faceless,” and feeling like “a nothing and a no one.” However, when she took it off, her mom was close to tears. That day, she would begin living a whole new life.
Dana Vulin was born in Western Australia in the mid-1980s. Her mom, Vera, originally came from Macedonia while her dad, Don, was born in Serbia. Dana lived on Koolan Island until she was six, when the family – including her two older sisters and her twin brother – moved to Perth.
Vulin was a popular child at school. As she told Australia’s Yahoo7 in October 2014, “[I was] confident, outgoing, loud, assertive, fun. Very fun. I guess some would call me wild.” A self-assured and likeable kid, she was never shy or short of friends.
Vulin was smart, too. Upon graduating high school, she attended Edith Cowan University where she studied for a Bachelor of Communications, and in 2005 was awarded majors in Advertising and Business Management.
To top it off, Vulin was also stunning. She took an enormous amount of pride in how she looked and was always well turned out, making an extra effort to stand out from the crowd. Indeed, men and women alike would make admiring remarks about just how beautiful Vulin was.
It perhaps goes without saying that Vulin received a lot of male attention. Then, at a New Year’s Eve party in 2011, she got chatting to a fitness instructor named Edin Handanovic. And although it was all innocent, his recently-estranged wife failed to see it that way.
Upon learning about Vulin and Handanovic’s meeting, his wife, Natalie Dimitrovska, flew into a blind rage. She began harassing and threatening Vulin, accusing her of having an affair with her husband. Then, after weeks of abusive phone calls, she would change Vulin’s life forever.
Desperate to win her estranged husband back, Dimitrovska wanted Vulin out of the picture. It’s alleged that during one of the menacing phone calls, Dimitrovska threatened to “ruin [Vulin’s] pretty little face.” Then, on February 16, 2012, Dimitrovska managed to get into Vulin’s apartment in the early hours of the morning.
Vulin was home alone, asleep on the couch. She apparently woke up to a woman’s voice saying, “Hello, Dana.” She raised her head to see Dimitrovska with a male accomplice. Convinced that Vulin was having an affair with her husband, Dimitrovska demanded to know where he was in the apartment.
An argument broke out. Vulin stood up and made to throw the intruders out. But Dimitrovska stopped Vulin in her tracks. According to Vulin, Dimitrovska picked up an open-flame lamp and began smoking crystal meth.
Describing the incident to Western Australia’s District Court, Vulin explained how she took the lamp off Dimitrovska and ordered her to leave. Dimitrovska is said to have replied, “You know what, I think the b***h is full of s**t.” She then grabbed a bottle of methylated spirits and doused Vulin with its contents.
Vulin, still holding the lamp, instantly went up in flames, becoming, in her words, a “human fireball.” As she later recalled in court, “The moment I was on fire, they just laughed and ran out of my apartment.” Indeed, as Vulin burned, Dimitrovska and her accomplice apparently left their victim for dead.
A neighbor raised the alarm after finding Vulin in her shower cubicle. She was rushed to the nearby Royal Perth Hospital where she was treated for third-degree burns covering 64 percent of her body. Vulin was barely recognizable – even to her own mother.
“To be able to explain to anyone, I mean, really explain how painful it was being set on fire is really, truly impossible,” Vulin told Yahoo7. “There are no words.” Lucky to be alive, Vulin was placed in an induced coma. Over a week later she was brought back to consciousness with the prospect of facing what had happened to her.
But Vulin is a fighter. Over a two-and-a-half-year period, she would undergo 150 operations and reconstructive surgeries to her face, body and arms to repair the damage that had been done. Her wounds were so severe that for 18 months Vulin was unable to even bathe herself.
In the days after the attack, Dimitrovska apparently changed her appearance to avoid being recognized. She was nonetheless tracked down by police at Perth International Airport, while she was attempting to flee the country on a one-way ticket to Macedonia. She was arrested and later sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Vulin, however, refused to play the victim. For more than two-and-a-half years she wore a compression mask that made her feel like “a nothing and a no one.” It was an essential part of the healing process, however. Then, in October 2014, an unmasking on Australian TV revealed a remarkable transformation.
At times, the obstacles had been huge – not least of which was a diagnosis of cervical cancer in 2013. Vulin’s mobility was once so limited that it was thought she would not even be able to manipulate a pencil. At the same time, the doting aunt was incapable of holding her baby nephew for many months. It was her natural self-confidence, however, that she thanks for pulling her through.
With the help of physio, laser therapy and a cream used to treat skin cancer, Vulin has a face again. “I knew logically that I couldn’t look [like] Dana again, but my heart would not let me give up hope. So I kept fighting.” Having regained her mobility she has also picked up a pen to write a memoir about her experiences.
“It would’ve been easier to die but I’ve never taken the easy road to anything,” Vulin explained to Yahoo7. “It is the hardest, rockiest, biggest mountain you can possibly think of. I’m going to make this burn my b***h. I’m going to kick it in the face, and I am going to rock scars, look hot with my scarred-up body and just make this work.”