Burn Education Speeds The Healing Proccess
George Frank III The Full Story
The story of George Franks III of Masontown began as he was preparing to cook dinner in a deep fryer on a cold January evening when the Albert Gallatin Area School District physical education teacher was involved in a tragic accident. “I turned around to put a lid on the pot, and it exploded!.
Flames went to the ceiling and grease spilled all over me. I knocked the pot away to run to my neighbor’s for help, then I tripped over it and fell and burned my back side.” Almost 40,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for burn injuries and nearly half of all those burns happen in the home each year.
UPMC Mercy Burn Center in Pittsburgh notes most injuries that occur in the home that are considered minor, such as a burn from hot water, a curling iron or touching a hot stove, still require medical treatment.
The U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics estimated, 450,000 people in 2012 received medical treatment for burns. Cooking is the main cause for home fires, and fires and burns due to kitchen accidents are the third leading cause of accidental home injury deaths, according to The Burn Foundation. “Always be aware of your surroundings,” said Dr. Jenny Ziembicki, medical director of the UPMC Mercy Burn Center.
Ziembicki said burns injure the skin layers and can also injure other parts of the body such as muscles, blood vessels, nerves, lungs and eyes. Burns are defined as first-, second-, third- and the most severe, fourth-degree.
The First-degree burns injure the top layer of skin causing it to turn red or pink. These burns are mildly painful and may result in some swelling, but blistering will not occur and the skin remains intact. There are two types of second-degree burns —
-And deep partial thickness.
The Superficial second-degree burns injure the first and second layers of skin and tend to be painful, wet and blistering and normally heal within two weeks, according to Ziembicki. Deep partial thickness second-degree burns injure deeper skin layers and tend to look drier.
Third-degree burns destroys all skin layers and skin becomes white, dry and painless. “So the drier a burn looks the deeper it is,” said Ziembicki Fourth-degree burns extend through the skin to injure muscle, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels and bones. Second-, third- and fourth-degree burns always require medical treatment and/or surgery, Ziembicki said.
On Jan. 11, Franks, 32, suffered third-degree burns from the waste down to his feet; fourth-degree burns on his feet; second- and third-degree burns on his chest and stomach; and first-degree burns on his right hand, left arm and face.
The Household Burns
Burns are injuries from heat, chemicals, radiation or electricity, all of which can occur inside the home. Heat or thermal burns, like Franks suffered in his home, are the most common and are caused by fire, steam, hot objects or hot liquids. “Scalding is very common in general but highly common in pediatric and elderly patients. These burns can be very serious injuries particularly related to bath tub or shower scalding because that can involve large surface areas,” said Ziembicki.
While Chemical burns are caused by contact with household or industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid or gas form. Chemical burns to the skin are most commonly caused by household cleaning agents but can also be cause by acids in a natural form such as chili peppers. Ziembicki said inhalation of these chemicals can cause injury or burns to the lungs.
The Electrical burns are caused by contact with electrical sources or lightning. Typically, these burns are not large, but they can cause physical and/or functional defects if not treated properly, according to Ziembicki. In addition, severe burns caused by low voltage or alternating currents can cause cardiac injury rather than massive tissue injury.
And Radiation burns are caused by sun, tanning booths, sun lamps, X-rays or radiation therapy for cancer treatment. Sunburn, although avoidable, is the most common radiation burn according to Ziembicki. “Sunburns are superficial but uncomfortable for the patient,” she said.
The Friction burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as pavement, carpets or gym floor surfaces. They are usually both a scrape and a heat burn. Friction burns are also, almost always, superficial.
Aid in the house
Franks made it to a neighbor’s home where he laid on the front porch while the neighbor, Don Albani, ran to Franks’ house and extinguished the fire. Albani’s daughter, Kayla, called 911. Albani returned to Franks and began to help remove the hot grease-saturated clothing.“He said my skin was peeling off like candle wax,” Franks said. He was then air lifted to UPMC Mercy Burn Center.
Before rendering first aid, Ziembicki recommends evaluation of how extensive the burn is and try to determine the depth of the most serious part of the burn. Cooling the burn immediately is the most important step, according to Ziembicki. She recommends for smaller, superficial burns, running the affected area under cool water to reduce skin temperature, numb pain and help prevent swelling. Continue first aid by covering the burn with a clean, dry dressing.
As For more serious burns involving flame or scalding, Ziembicki recommends having the person drop and roll, wrapping them in a thick material like a rug or blanket, or dousing them with water to extinguish the fire. She said burned clothing should be removed; however, clothing stuck to the skin should not be removed or forced.
She said someone helping a burn victim should cover him or her with a dry, sterile bandage or clean cloth. For scalding, Ziembicki suggested removing clothing that is wet from the hot liquid and then slowly cool the injury under running tap water for 30 minutes. She warned against using ice to the affected areas.
“Following these steps, call 911 or take the person to an emergency room or burn center,” said Ziembicki. Instantly medical assistance is needed if the burn is the size of your palm or larger, caused by chemicals or electricity, the person has inhaled smoke or chemicals, the person shows signs of shock, or you’re not sure how serious the burn may be.
In addition, if signs of infection, including increased pain, redness, fever, swelling, drainage or pus, swollen lymph nodes or red streaks spreading from the burn, seek medical attention immediately.
The recovery from traumatic burn wounds can involve a variety of care including surgery, reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation, specialized treatment and prolonged wound care. Nine months after Franks’ horrific accident, he continues to recover, and he is thankful to be way ahead of schedule.
Initially Franks was told his recovery could take years but after months of grueling treatment and rehabilitation his wounds are considered to be fully healed. Franks spent 54 days in the hospital, 21 of those days were spent in the intensive care unit at UPMC Mercy.
The early treatment for traumatic burn injuries involves draining wounds and a process known as hydrotherapy, which is an intensely painful but effective treatment. Hydrotherapy uses warm water to help the healing process, it softens and removes dead tissue and enables new healthy tissue to form.
A wire brush was used to scrape wounds, which is the most painful thing I’ve ever been through,” said Franks. Franks underwent six surgeries including the cutting away and irrigation of burned skin and then skin grafting surgeries, which is common reconstructive surgery for severely-burned patients, according to Ziembicki.
The best skin grafts come from the patient’s own unburned skin or donor sites. The grafts, called autografts, will ideally come from locations that are not ordinarily visible
Skin was grafted from Franks’ back for his legs.
Franks rehabilitation began almost immediately when family and friends would come and help him stretch out his legs. He had to use resistance bands because he couldn’t walk and he needed to strengthen his arms.
Then Franks faced what many patients suffering severe burns must, learning to do basic things again, standing up, sitting down, walking. Other side effects of severe burn injuries, according to The Burn Foundation, are psychological in nature. Patients feel overwhelmingly conscious of their appearance which can lead to depression and anxiety.
The Burn Foundation urges burn victims to get involved in support groups or blog about their recovery. He said he tried to maintain a positive attitude, and he does feel it helped in his recovery.
Franks scars are still visible and Franks does experience nerve pain, which doctors say may subside in two years or so. Some burn patients never fully recover, according to The Burn Foundation, and they continue to experience pain and inability for wounds to heal for many years following their injuries.
He continues his rehabilitation therapy three times a week which includes stretching, riding a stationary bike, walking to desensitize his feet and massages to break up scar tissue.
“I’m doing better now, but it is hard to stand on my feet all day,” he said. With all the support of family, friends, staff and students, Franks returned to work in September at the district’s middle schools.
He said to help in his emotional recovery, he turns to — and is there for — other burn victims who reach out to him, inspired by this story. “Hearing the story of my recovery helps them and talking about it is therapeutic for me,” he said.
Reporter Tara Rack-Amber contributed to this story.
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