WALKING to her friend’s house, on a sunny June afternoon, Kayleigh White was grabbed by a stranger who whispered “Are you alright?” in her ear - then he plunged an eight-inch knife into her back.
The terrifying 2015 attack, in Yeovil, Somerset, left the 17-year-old fighting for her life, with doctors telling her distraught mum she had a one per cent chance of survival and it would be a “miracle” if she pulled through.
The plucky teenager defied the odds and is now mum to two girls - Isla, three, and one-year-old Francesca.
But, six years on, Kayleigh - who features in the opening episode of Survivors with Denise Welsh on Crime + Investigation, on Monday - still bears the mental and physical scars of the traumatic attack.
“Physically, I still have a lot of pain and what I call 'after effects',” she tells The Sun.
“I get infections a bit worse than other people and I’ve had six further operations after my initial surgery, including a C-section for my first child because of complications caused by the damage to my kidneys.
“I suffer from PTSD and I still don't go out on my own, even to this day.”
Her attacker Lee Jeffries-Jones, 31 - who went on a violent spree and vowed to “kill 20 people” after a drug-fuelled row with a pal - was jailed for attempted murder in 2016.
Incredibly, brave Kayleigh says she has forgiven him, despite the huge impact on her life.
“It’s taken me years to get to this point,” she says. “But I can't let him continue to ruin things for me. I've got to let it go.
“I just want to be the best mum I can for my kids and I can't do that if I’m holding on to negativity all the time.”
Eight inch blade sliced kidney in half and cut pancreas
As a child, Kayleigh dreamed of joining the police or the army, wanting a job that she felt would help other people.
On the sunny afternoon of June 28, 2015, she was looking forward to her summer break after completing her first year at college when she decided to make the short walk from her boyfriend’s to her best pal, Liv’s.
She passed three men having a minor argument, but kept walking.
Suddenly she was grabbed from behind by Jeffries-Jones - and pulled towards him.
“I didn't even realise I'd been stabbed,” she says. “I had felt worse pain and it was in and out so quick.
“I fell to the floor then immediately got up and ran into Liv's garden where I pieced together in my head what had just happened and screamed, ‘I’ve been stabbed.’
“Everything just felt warm and fuzzy, and I could feel myself bleeding out.”
In fact, the blade had gone so deep it chopped Kayleigh's kidney in half, snipped the top off her pancreas, pierced her stomach and damaged her spleen.
Begged to die as pain got too much
Liv’s mum drove them to hospital, with Liv pressing a towel to stop the staunch of blood from her best friend’s back.
Even as they drove to the hospital, Kayleigh spotted her attacker and was quick-thinking enough to tell her pal to take a picture, which would later be shown in court.
But as the colour drained from her face and she heard Liv scream, “I think she’s dead”, Kayleigh’s only thought was saying goodbye to her mum, Lou, who rushed to her bedside.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was going to dieKayleigh White
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was going to die, so I just held my mum as tight as I could,” she said.
Tragically, as doctors battled to save her life, Kayleigh begged them to let her die because she was in so much pain.
“The surgeon did prepare us for the worst, and said he would do the best he could,” Lou tells Denise Welch on the show.
“In my heart I was just praying someone would save my little girl.
The family faced an agonising wait while doctors fought to save her life with 10 hours of surgery, and then three days when Kayleigh’s life hung in the balance before she slowly regained consciousness.
Tears over 35cm scar
To save her life, surgeons needed to slice through her stomach from under her breasts to her pelvic bone - leaving her with 40 staples and a horrific scar, measuring 35cm.
“I’ve never cried as much as I did when I saw that,” she says. “As a young woman, you are trying to get used to your body, and then I've got this massive scar.
“I thought, ‘Is anyone ever going to want me?’ I felt so unlovable, it broke me."
Kayleigh spent four months in hospital and was forced to shelve plans to return to college in September.
Her dreams were further shattered when the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and her physical injuries meant she could no longer join the police force.
“In the first few weeks, I was probably at my best mentally because I hadn’t compartmentalised what had happened and I was focusing on my physical health," she says.
"But after that my mental health started to crash. I couldn't sleep and when I did, I'd have nightmares and flashbacks that left my whole body jolting."
As she tried to deal with this, Kayleigh slipped into addiction.
“I started taking sleeping tablets and a cocktail of drugs, opiates and painkillers,” she says.
“In the end, I wasn't using the drugs because of my pain, I was using it for a happy boost because I was in a mess.”
After calls from her concerned doctor, who noticed her prescriptions requests were increasing, she managed to cut back on her medication - although she still needs pain relief today.
'I felt I'd ruined my attacker's life'
After the attack, Jeffries-Jones followed another woman into her house and attacked her in front of her children, stabbing her in the arm.
A dad, who tackled Jeffries-Jones to the floor and held him until police arrived, also sustained injuries.
Despite her trauma and a moving impact statement which said the attack had “broken” her and her family, Kayleigh had a powerful message when asked to speak at Jeffries-Jones sentencing in 2016.
She said: “I wanted him to know, so he could stop hating himself, that I forgive him. He cried. It was emotional.”
Lee Jeffries-Jones was sentenced to 20 years.
Incredibly, Kayleigh initially felt guilty about his sentence.
“For a long time, I felt really guilty that somebody was in prison, because of me,” she says.
“I felt like I'd ruined his life. Now I just think he needs help and support and to be rehabilitated so he can come out and live a good life or do something that helps the world move forward.”
Currently single after separating from her daughters’ dad, Kayleigh says motherhood has been a saviour.
“I absolutely love being a mum,” she says. “I honestly don't know where I'd be without that.
“The girls have given me someone to be good for, and I have to be the best person I can be for them.”
She is now applying to universities and wants to find a career that helps perpetrators rehabilitate.
“I want to make people realise you can sometimes end up in the wrong situation, not always by your own choice,” she says.
“It's really easy to fall into things you don't want to be in.”
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Although she says she is constantly “working on myself”, Kayleigh has been helped by Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which has boosted her confidence, and wanted to appear on Survivors to help other victims of crime.
“I think there's always a bright future,” she says. “It took me a really long time, but I learned never to say, ‘What if this hadn't happened?’
“It literally is what it is and I can't change it. So I've got to live for the future and keep moving forward.”
Survivors with Denise Welch starts at 9pm on Monday April 19 on Crime+Investigation