Health News Digest

December 12, 2011

Treating Burn Victims

Circle of Care

By  Michael D. Shaw

The famous Ebers papyrus—a collection of ancient Egyptian medical knowledge dating back to 1550 BC, and possibly much earlier—appears to be the first reference to burn injuries. Here is some of the recommended therapy:

  • Day 1   Black mud
  • Day 2   Excrement of small cattle
  • Day 3   Resin of acacia, barley dough, carob oil
  • Day 4   Wax, oil, cooked unwritten papyrus, legume
  • Day 5   Carob, red ochre, copper flakes

Black mud may have soothed the skin, but one wonders how many patients survived the massive inoculation of E. coli received on the second day.

Pioneering German surgeon Wilhelm Fabry (1560-1634) introduced the three degrees burn classification system, and it would be the wars of the early to mid 20th century that drove the improvements in burn treatment. Hundreds of specialized burn units and rehabilitation centers now exist in the US. Successful therapy can be complex, involving such matters as post-burn infection, respiratory complications, extensive plastic surgery, and it is virtually always quite painful.

The American Burn Association provides these annual estimates from its 2011 Fact Sheet (Data shown from 2010)…

  • Burn injuries receiving medical treatment — 450,000
  • Fire and burn deaths — 3,500
  • Hospitalizations for burn injury — 45,000 [25,000 of these were at hospitals with burn centers]

The treatment and recovery time for burn victims can be agonizingly long, with profound effects on the victim’s family, as well. Fortunately, organizations such as Los Angeles based Circle of Care Burn Foundation are there to provide much-needed assistance.

Last month, I spoke with Circle of Care’s executive director Linda David, and asked her to give me a real world example of their services. She described Circle of Care’s involvement in the much-publicized case of then 19-year-old Derek Thomas, who in August, 2010 suffered horrific burns as a passenger in a car accident which proved fatal to the other occupants of the vehicle. The accident occurred near Bishop, California.

Derek suffered burns over 85 percent of his body and was given a one percent chance of surviving. The youth was air-lifted south to the renowned Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, his parents, after getting the news, drove north from their home in San Diego to meet him.

Upon notification by the Grossman nurses, Circle of Care arranged for hotel accommodations, followed by a stay in their courtesy condo, located within walking distance of the hospital.

“We want to keep family members close to the burn survivors as they go through this process,” said David. “The condo is a place where they can decompress, but stay close. We got a beautiful letter from Paula—Derek’s mother—telling us how the free use of the condo removed such a load from them.”

Other services include financial assistance, burn prevention classes for seniors, and burn survivor family camp. Circle of Care also supports the SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) program of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. SOAR offers training to burn survivors or their family members, who want to volunteer to help others whose lives have been touched by a burn injury.

As to Derek, who left the hospital after an 11-month stay, Circle of Care will be providing assistance to him as he pursues his academics, in lieu of his former athletic scholarship, plus setting him up with some home exercise equipment. David adds “We want to follow Derek’s progress and be there for him. Even when he checked out of the hospital, that’s not the end of what we do. We want to make sure that Derek has the best life possible.”

In an era when “care” seems to have all but disappeared from health care, how good it is to know that groups like the Circle of Care still exist.