LIKE many teenagers, Joanne Wharmby was not sure what she wanted to do with her life. Then a serious bus accident changed it forever - amazingly for the better. She tells Karen Stephen how she believes the injuries she sufferered were a blessing in disguise.

JOANNE Wharmby is desperate to track down the driver of the bus which seriously injured her in an horrific accident almost 15 years ago.

Unusually though, she wants to let him know that the accident was the best thing that ever happened to her.

She says her brush with death made her realise just how important it was to embrace life and live it to the full.

After leaving Bolton School, Joanne had embarked on a fashion and textile degree course at Manchester University, admittedly "not really knowing what I'd do after that".

She had always wanted to travel, but lack of money prevented that and she soon realised that her heart wasn't in university life.

Joanne had accepted that she would spend the rest of her life living in Bolton, the town in which she was born and bred.

Then, the day after her 19th birthday, she had a terrible accident.

As she stepped onto a bus the driver drove off, closing the doors and knocking Joanne off the step.

She fell to the ground, her right leg became trapped under the wheel and she was dragged along.

From her current home in Cape Town, Joanne, now 33, says the disfiguring injuries she suffered made her realise how important it is to live life to the full. She says: "I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday. It was as if I were watching the whole thing in slow motion."

The next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital after nine hours of surgery.

"I was surrounded by my family and, when the doctor told me they were thinking of amputating my leg, I realised how serious my injuries really were."

Surgeons eventually decided against amputation and, instead, battled to save Joanne's right leg. She spent three months in hospital where doctors took a bone from her left leg, transplanted it into her right (where all the bones had been completely crushed) and pinned it with a steel frame.

She says: "My legs were sewn together for a month so the blood supply from my left leg could keep the right one from dying. I looked like a mermaid."

Seven operations later and Joanne managed to pluck up the courage to tell her parents she didn't want to return to university and instead wanted to travel.

"They told me 'you're alive - go for it', so I did."

She spent the next year in a wheelchair living at the family home in Tonge Fold and making her travel plans.

The following 10 months were spent on crutches and she was told by physiotherapists to "try her best" as far as walking was concerned.

But Joanne was determined to put her travel plans into action and so knew she had to walk before she could go anywhere.

"The result was ungainly," she says. "I leant to the left and had to throw my legs out in front of me. I was also unable to stand still for long as my legs started to itch and burn.

"I walked like that for nine years but had an amazing time travelling."

She headed to Canada and then on to New York where she spent three and a half years working in television as an autocue operator.

Next stop was Sydney where she stayed for two years working as a Reiki teacher and met a a woman who "turned my life around".

She specialised in Hellerwork, a combination of deep tissue work that moulds and stretches the body back to its natural shape and upright posture (especially in traumatised areas) and movement education.

She says: "This was amazing because the Hellerwork practitioner went all over my body releasing the parts where movement was trapped.

"She also taught me how to use my feet - I couldn't believe I was literally being taught how to walk again," she said.

The travel bug bit again and this time Joanne made her way round Asia a "more confident person".

She says: "I started wearing short skirts again - I felt feminine and confident."

So much so that she headed back to Europe to complete a two year training course and is now the only Hellerwork practitioner in South Africa.

My journey from the accident has made me realise many things and one is that we are all afraid of something, and I think knowing this has given me compassion.

"I remember the nurse who held my hand and stroked my head that first night I spent in hospital. I want to help people too.

"Most importantly I want to track down that bus driver because I'm sure he believes he ruined my life. But he didn't. I want to talk to him and tell him that the accident was the best thing that ever happened to me.

"Here I am, sitting on my balcony in Cape Town, overlooking the beautiful ocean knowing that my experience has led me on a journey - a healing journey around the world. And now I can use that to help people."

Joanne's accident happened on Oxford Road, Manchester in 1989. Do you know the bus driver? If so, please contact the Bolton Evening News features department on 01204 537348 and we will put you in touch with Joanne.