June 2, 2011

A Burn Injury Survivor Becomes an Excellent Fundraiser--and Golfer

A story on the pro-golf website www.PGATOUR.com caught my eye this week, and it has almost nothing to do with the golf that is being played by the top male professionals.

This past week in Irving, TX, a burn victim who has had 52 surgeries, and who has just five working fingers out of ten, and who was blind for eight months, and who had to undergo intensive therapy sessions just to walk, talk, and eat again, took on a central role in the HP Byron Nelson Golf Championship, a big event in pro golf. That man, Jason Schechterle, carried the golf bag for his high-school friend Ted Purdy, who is a pro golfer.

Ten years ago, such a role would never have been dreamed of by Jason, Ted, or any of his doctors. Back then, Schechterle was a rookie police officer in Phoenix. One night, his squad car was struck from behind by a taxi driver traveling more than 100 miles per hour. Schechterle's car burst into flames and for eight agonizing minutes, he was trapped inside.

Once he was freed, his life was changed forever. He suffered third-degree burns and even fourth-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body. The skin on his face, head, and hands were simply gone.

Ted Purdy, who has won just one event in his years on the pro golf tour, is grateful to have Schechterle by his side as he plays. "I knew if I had him carrying my bag, I'd be inspired," Purdy said. "But he turned me down initially."

Why? Because "this is pretty serious business," Schechterle says. "This is Ted's job."

Schechterle eventually changed his mind because he knew he would enjoy it. He also knew that caddying at a pro golf event would help get the word out about his non-profit foundation, Beyond The Flames, which raises money for people who have suffered a loss or tragedy or need inspiration as they seek to return to a normal life.

He also knows one other thing -- golf. Not only did Purdy and Schechterle play together in high school, they continue to play together now. Last year, at a two-man team event held in Scottsdale, AZ, they finished 13th out of 62 teams.

Schechterle, amazingly, has improved as a golfer since the crash. He plays at least twice a week and regularly shoots in the low 70s, which is close to being a pro. He plays with special clubs made by John Solheim at PING, a leading golf-club maker; the clubs include oversized grips, and he uses fingerless gloves to help secure the grip.

Getting back to the course and playing a sport he loves was one of the motivation factors Schechterle used in his desire to return to a normal life. "I've played golf my whole life. And I wasn't going to accept shooting 90 or 100. I wanted to play well again."

As more people learn about Schechterle's story, he's become a fan favorite. Purdy said that after he hit his ball near the crowd a couple of times during one round at the tournament, the fans surrounding his ball wanted to shake Schechterle's hand.

Although there are no specific commitments to team up again beyond this week, it's likely that Schechterle will carry the bag for Purdy on a few other occasions. Purdy says that "he's excellent at it. Jason reads the greens well when I am putting."

As much fun as Schechterle is having, he's intent on increasing his motivational speaking engagements and spreading the word about his organization. He expects to give 100 or more speeches this year.

Does Schechterle's motivation work? It did for Purdy. He had played poorly for much of 2011, but he made the cut at this event.

May 31, 2011

To Avoid Severe Burns and Smoke Inhalation, Know How Fire and Smoke Behave

On Thursday, May 26 in Belleville, NJ, a fire at the five-story Tudor Arms apartments resulted in the dramatic rescue of a 65-year-old woman, who was overcome by smoke and burns.

Belleville Fire Prevention Specialist Ralph Castellano happened to be near the five-story, 50-unit apartment building around 3:30 p.m. when the fire dispatch received a call from the burning building. Castellano immediately entered the building, and with the aid of Belleville police, alerted and evacuated the tenants.

Castellano encountered heavy smoke on the third floor, and without any protective gear or a breathing mask, made his way to the third-floor apartment where the fire was. He found the woman lying on the floor near the doorway.

He dragged her into the hallway and to the stairwell, where Belleville firefighters then carried her to the street. The rescue happened before firefighters made it to the third floor with their hoses, making the rescue even more heroic.

The woman was transported to the burn unit of St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, where she was admitted in critical condition due to third-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

The fire was extinguished quickly, and was contained to the one apartment, which suffered heavy fire damage. The apartment above received some smoke damage, and the unit below some water damage. Those neighbors had to seek other accommodations for Wednesday night.

Belleville's Fire Investigation Bureau has not determined a definite cause of the fire, although a preliminary investigation points to "accidental causes."

Fire officials credit the immediate and courageous actions of firefighter Castellano as the key factor for the best chance of survival of the injured woman.

This is both a tragic story and one that is uplifting, given the heroics of Firefighter Castellano. However, there is an important lesson to be learned from this as well:

Any time you are in a building that is higher than one story, you must know exactly where all the fire exits are on the floor you are occupying. The reason: Smoke and heat rise quickly, so when there is a fire, the people on the floors above the fire are in danger of being overcome in seconds by smoke inhalation, and also of getting seared by the intense heat of the fire below them even though they are not near the fire. Knowing where the fire exits are means that you will be able to find a staircase that can bring you below the fire quickly and safely.

Too many people live and work in multi-story buildings but do not take just a minute to find the fire exits. This can be a deadly mistake. Do it yourself, and make sure the others who share that space with you also know where ALL the escape staircases are, in case one is blocked by fire, smoke, or debris.

May 26, 2011

Good Neighbors Try to Protect Each Other From Severe Burns

This past Sunday, a tragic fire took place at a home in Columbus, OH. According to The Columbus Dispatch newspaper, Tim Templin and his wife, Sandi, are next-door neighbors to Misty Hodge and Jamie Gillespie. The Templins had long worried about the safety of Hodge and Gillespie and their two children, all of whom lived in the run-down house next to theirs. Unfortunately, their worries came true when a toddler died in a fire there early yesterday, and the little boy's sister nearly died too.

The poorly kept rental property wasn't the primary cause of the fire that killed 2-year-old Josh Gillespie and left his 4-year-old sister, Abigail Hodge, clinging to life in Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. But the blaze, which started in a trash can on the front porch and was most likely caused by a smoldering cigarette, was fueled by the terrible condition of the house. Even worse, the home had no smoke detectors.

When firefighters arrived at 5:08 a.m., the home was engulfed and the two kids' parents were outside, injured and hysterical. Hodge and Gillespie were awakened by the smell of smoke and went looking for the source. While they were outside investigating, the fire grew worse, spreading so quickly that Gillespie went back into the house but couldn't get to the kids upstairs.

Gillespie, 26, was burned and was in critical condition with third-degree burns and smoke inhalation. Hodge, 23, was treated for minor burns on her arms and face.

When the Templins came out of their house, they saw Gillespie in his backyard, pointing to the upstairs. The front of the house, where the staircase leads to the bedrooms, was already engulfed. Firefighters later found both children on the second floor of the home. "There just wasn't any chance," Templin said. "Everything was on fire, and it went so, so fast. There's no way anyone could have gotten back in."

Sandi Templin said she and other neighbors have long worried about everyone's safety in the rental home because it was in such bad shape. Records show the property has a record dating back at least two years in Environmental Court. Several neighbors had complained to officials over the past few years about rats, bugs, garbage, standing water, high grass and generally unsafe living conditions at the home.

A day after the fire, a woman who said she was Jamie Gillespie's sister was digging through a mound of soaked and ruined belongings piled in the front yard. She said her brother works for a glass manufacturer and has been trying his best to make ends meet and provide for his family. Then she gestured to the house, to the melted toy wagon, the singed red tricycle and the pile of burned toys. "That's everything. They lost everything," she said. "They can never rebuild their lives because my nephew is gone."

To make sure something like this does not happen in your neighborhood, you should look out for fire hazards not only in your house but also around the homes of others around you. And if one of your neighbors does not take the proper precautions to fireproof their house and yard, then you should consider calling the local fire department to alert them to the dangerous situation.

May 25, 2011

Burn Survivors Need Help, and They Give Help Too

Just last week in Albany, GA, an event took place that highlights how devastating burn injuries can be, especially to children. But it also gave burn survivors hope for their future, and the knowledge that people care about their recovery, both physical and mental.

Because many people who get burned can't afford the doctors bills to help them recover as best as they can, the Albany Fire Department partnered with area businesses outside their local Sam's Club to raise money for those victims. Dozens of kids got to enjoy races, games, music, and even free tours of the aerial truck.

But aside from all this fun is a more important message for those families who came just to be a part of the fundraiser and show support, even if they do not know a victim of severe burns. These folks also got to learn about how to make their homes and offices safe from fire, and how to plan an escape route at home and at work from fire and especially from often-deadly smoke inhalation when a fire does begin.

The fire department raised $2,500 last year, and 90 percent of the funds go towards the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation. The other 10 percent will teach kids fire safety. Assistant Fire Chief Sebon Burns says Albany, a mid-sized town, sees its share of burn victims. "The problems are many for people who get burned," he said. "You have physical and mental scars, both of which cause pain. So we're trying to raise money to ease the stress level for the burn victims and their families."

Dennis Gardin, who was a burn victim as a teenager, says the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation is in dire need of funding. He wants to make sure burn victims have the proper support and funding. "I was burned and directly benefited from the services of the fire department," said Gardin. "As a kid, there were no services like the burn foundation for me or my family."

The burn foundation also uses this money to bring kids to a summer camp to connect with other young burn victims. And firefighters volunteer their time at the camp too.

In the midwestern part of the country, another burn victim is doing something else that is very effective in helping burn victims. In 2008, Stephanie "NieNie" Nielson was in a plane crash that burned more than 80 percent of her body. Prior to the crash, her blog, called nieniedialogues.blogspot.com, was a popular read among mothers and, now, it is a source of inspiration for millions of people worldwide--and not just burn victims. In fact, she was featured on the ABC news show "20/20" just this month.

Just three years after her accident, NieNie is still very much on the mend. Slow but steady, this devoted mother of four has a lifetime of surgeries ahead of her--and a growing circle of friends behind her.

A few weeks ago, she spoke in front of a large audience at a midwestern church during a special women's conference. She talked about how not just her doctors and her family but also her faith in God and prayer and her love for music have sustained her through some very tough times.

Try to visit NieNie's blog a few times to read about her ups and downs as she goes through her recovery from third-degree burns.

May 19, 2011

New treatment for regulating body temperature and pain management in burn patients

Cumberland Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced in mid-May that results from a clinical study evaluating the safety and efficacy of Caldolor (ibuprofen) given intravenously to treat fever and pain in hospitalized burn patients was published in Volume 32, Number 1 of the Journal of Burn Care & Research.

The study demonstrated that Caldolor significantly reduces fever in these patients, including those with severe thermal burns. The newly published study also supports the safety of Caldolor as it involved the highest dose and duration of exposure to IV ibuprofen to date, demonstrating that the recommended maximum daily dose of 3200 mg/day over five days of treatment was well tolerated.

"Immediate and sustained regulation of body temperature and reduction of fever following a burn injury is critical to patient recovery as well as comfort," said Dr. John T. Promes, principal investigator of the study, Director of Trauma Services and Associate Director for Surgical Education at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

"Because oral administration in hospitalized burn patients is often impossible due to sedation, intubation or other factors, fever reduction with an IV agent such as Caldolor is often necessary." Further, as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), Caldolor has the potential to stop the escalation of inflammation caused by burn injury and alleviate pain in addition to fever.

The trial was conducted at five U.S. and international sites, including hospital burn units and burn centers. The study evaluated 61 adult burn patients with second-degree or third-degree burns covering more than 10 percent total body surface area with an anticipated hospital stay of more than 72 hours and fever of 100.4 degrees or greater. Patients were administered 800 mg of Caldolor every six hours for five consecutive days. There was a significant reduction in temperature in the first 24 hours of treatment in patients receiving Caldolor compared with those receiving a placebo. Caldolor was well tolerated and there was no significant difference in adverse events between patients receiving placebo and those receiving Caldolor.

According to the American Burn Association, 1.1 million burn injuries require medical attention each year in the United States. Of these, approximately 50,000 burn injuries require hospitalization, 20,000 are major burn injuries affecting 25 percent of total body surface area and 4,500 people die. In addition, up to 10,000 people in the United States die every year from burn-related infections.

Caldolor is indicated for the management of mild to moderate pain and management of moderate to severe pain as an adjunct to opioid analgesics, and for the reduction of fever in adults. It is the first FDA approved intravenous therapy for fever.

May 17, 2011

With Children, the Risk of Severe Burns is Much Higher

With the way that small children manage to get into everything, adults must be extra vigilant and careful when it comes to both fire safety and burn safety when kids are present.

Two stories from this past week make this point very clearly. First, in northwest Florida, Meigs County police say that a mom named Teresa Reed is in stable condition at the Joseph Still Burn Center in Augusta--but is very lucky to be alive.

Officers say a fire broke out around ten o'clock at night on May 11 in Reed's apartment, and that it was started when Reed's five-year-old son fell asleep after playing with matches.

Now, Reed's neighbors are doing what everyone who reads about this incident should be doing: keeping an eye out for potential fire hazards that kids could have access to. One neighbor who witnessed the fire said that "we are making sure there's no more papers outside, making sure kids aren't playing with lighters, matches, stuff like that. People are also getting the wiring in their houses checked out." Unfortunately, neighbors say that this was not the first fire to have started in that house. In short, children who are curious about fire can be very dangerous, and must be educated, warned, and watched.

The second story from this past week is even more disturbing, because it involves a severe burn injury at a day care center. In St. Paul, MN, a toddler is recovering from second-degree burns and maybe even third-degree burns she suffered at a local day care facility.

According to authorities, bathtub water burned the 16-month-old girl's arms and legs. Investigators are trying to figure out what exactly happened inside the day care facility, but a few things should be clear for parents who bring their kids to day care:.

First, find out if the facility you are considering has been certified by local officials that it is a safe place that is run by people who have taken the proper training. And second, do your very own research--ask questions of the facility workers. For instance, ask if the doors to various rooms are left closed while the children are there so they cannot wander into an area that can get them burned. What's more, ask if the water heater at the facility is set at less than 120 degrees. This temperature is considered safe enough to not cause a scalding injury in the event that a child wanders off and turns on a faucet without an adult knowing.

May 13, 2011

Bedbugs, Drug Resistant MRSA and Third Degree Burns

Infection is the most common complication of burns and is the major cause of death in burn victims. Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become a frequent cause of hospital acquired infection (nosocomial infection). Burn patients specially second and third degree burns are more susceptible to infection due to the disruption of the skin which is the first line of defence against infection.
Researchers found that bedbugs can harbor MRSA and maybe it can spread the bacteria (see the link). According to the Entomology Department at Purdue University, bedbugs cause many diseases and at least 27 agents of human disease have been found in bedbugs, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms.

You shold contact your doctor immediatly when you observe any of the signs and/or symptoms of infection which may include:

  • Increased redness in or around the wound.
  • Increased swelling in or around the wound.
  • Increased or persistent pain.
  • Increased drainage from the wound.
  • Change in the color of the drainage (green discharge or pus).
  • Foul smell from the wound.
  • Heavy bleeding soaking the bandage.
  • Chills or fever (usually greater than 101.5 degrees F).
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
Burn wound infection prevention:
  • Keep the burned area clean.
  • Look for any signs or symptoms of infection during dressing change.
  • Follow a strict sterile protocol during wound dressing change (see home wound care).
  • It's important in infants to observe any change in the appearance of wound or change in activity level (not playful, fails to hold eye contact, lethargic) children can't express what they feel. Contact the doctor immediately if you observe any sign or symptom of infection.
Topical antibiotic ointments may be prescribed as a prophylactic (preventive) measure in burned patients.

Infection delays wound healing, encourages scarring (as a result of collagen deposition in reaction to the infection) and may result in septicemia and organ failure (systemic infection).

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

May 12, 2011

It's Barbecue Season--And the Season for Severe Burns and Smoke Inhalation

Even though barbecues are enclosed units and are used outside, the chance of suffering severe burns from careless use of them is high. The following story is prime evidence of that: According to the Naples Daily News in Florida, a 71-year-old woman was rushed to a Tampa hospital in early May with burns over almost 30 percent of her body after an outdoor grill caused a gas explosion at her home. She was very fortunate, however; by the next day she was recuperating at home.

An emergency call came in around 7 p.m. to the local fire department, and fire engines from the city of Naples Fire/Rescue Department reached the home less than seven minutes later. The responders found the patient seated and covered in wet towels.

A brief fire was caused by the gas explosion, but was out by the time responders arrived. They were able to cut off the gas supply to the grill. The woman was transported as a precaution by ambulance to the Tampa General Hospital Regional Burn Center, with first-degree burns reported on 22 percent of her body, and second-degree burns on five percent of her body, largely to her neck and her face.

Here is the careless part: According to one fire official, the woman reported that she had been smelling gas for the previous couple of days. The official said an investigation found that gas had been leaking into the cabinets located above and below the grill, and when the woman went to light the grill, the lower cabinet exploded, emitting a fireball that engulfed her legs and traveled up to her face. Her shirt caught fire, and fed the flames, allowing them to come into contact with her skin.

A fire chief said he visited the home with a fire marshal the day after the incident to further investigate the cause of the fire, and determined there was either a leak in the liquid propane piping or in the grill itself. He said the liquid propane is contained in an underground tank that supplies the entire house, including the kitchen stove and pool heater.

The moral of this story is that if you smell gas for more than a minute or two in or around an area, you must find out exactly where that gas is coming from, or call a professional to come in and locate the source. It is NOT a normal occurrence to smell unlit natural gas for longer than a few seconds. If so, it probably means that there is a leak somewhere--and the slightest spark can cause an explosion that could hurt you or others far worse than the very fortunate woman in Naples.

Lastly, any barbecue that is in use should be kept far away from the house or an indoor porch, because any buildup of smoke in an enclosed area can lead to smoke inhalation that can damage the lungs, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning.

So please think carefully every time you fire up the barbecue this summer. Click here to go to a web site with excellent safety tips for using a barbecue or grill.

May 10, 2011

Tanning Too Often Can Cause Burns, and Even Cancer

CBS News in New York ran a story this week about a new proposed law that would make New York the first state to ban indoor tanning for minors.

While this might seem to be a bit too much government intervention for some people, think about this: The issue is rising rates of skin cancer. A 2010 study found regular use of tanning beds can triple the risk for melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. The risk was quadruple for people using high-pressure tanning beds, which give off more UVA radiation.

"It can be horrific," said Harvey Weisenberg, who is sponsoring the bill in the state assembly. "This is a cancer-causing process. Teenagers do it for proms. They do it for special occasions. There is lots of evidence" of harm, he claims.

The World Health Organization states that the $1 billion tanning industry uses some machines that can provide five times the ultraviolet radiation of the midday sun. This could raise the chance of cancer in the long term--and even cause second-degree burns in a single session, if someone stays in a tanning booth for too long.

The five-times-the-sun's-radiation claim, however, is one that the tanning industry disputes. Indoor Tanning Association spokesman John Overstreet, responds that the foundations supporting this research might be biased, as they are financially supported by sunscreen manufacturers. The prominent Skin Cancer Foundation, for example, is funded by more than 50 sunscreen, makeup and skin care companies and drug store chains, according to its website.

"Kids can get an abortion without parental permission, but they can't get a tan," said Dan Humiston, president of the National Indoor Tanning Association, which is fighting the measure. He owns 41 Tanning Bed stores from Buffalo to Utica.

Tanning remains popular amongst youth. A quarter of young woman polled by the American Academy of Dermatology said they regularly used tanning beds.

But skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with more than 3.5 million cases affecting more than two million people each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The good news is that skin cancer treatment can be very effective when the disease is caught early. Doctors use the ABCDE rule to determine if a mole or skin growth might be cancerous. The National Cancer Institute breaks down ABCDE like this.

- Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.

- Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.

- Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.

- Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).

- Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

The best person to diagnose skin cancer is your doctor. Annual checkups with a dermatologist are recommended.

May 5, 2011

A Story of Hope for a Burn Victim, and a Lesson from Another Work Accident

In a blog post on April 26, we wrote about young kids from other countries who were getting life-altering surgery here in the United States to save them from a life of pain and disfigurement from severe burns.

Well, here is another such example, which is good news for a young victim of third-degree burns who lives in Congo. In Boston this week, a badly burned Congolese boy is recovering from reconstructive surgery at Shriners Hospital, and his expected quality of life is much better than it was before the surgery.

Unfortunately, he was playing hide-and-seek on the grounds of a power substation back home in Congo, and 9-year-old Yusuf Badibanga was nearly killed because of it. He came in contact with some of the equipment and suffered an enormous electric shock, and was badly burned to the point of severe disfigurement.

Shriners Hospital plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Driscoll said the boy was severely disfigured, especially on his right side, when he arrived in Boston. "His deformities include a lack of an upper extremity [an arm] on his right side, and he has problems because he has no external auditory canal in his right ear," said Dr. Driscoll.

Badibanga underwent surgery to reconstruct his skin through grafts and to fix his deviated windpipe. Doctors said more treatments will follow--but this was a first step towards a life that is more normal and without as much pain as he would have had to endure.

Just as that good news was happening, though, an adult man in Longview, Texas became yet another victim of on-the-job severe burns that probably could have been avoided: The man, a worker at a scrap metal yard, was seriously burned in a tank explosion while he used a cutting torch.

Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian says the accident happened one morning last week at Youngblood's Scrap and Metals. She says the injured worker, whose name was not immediately released, was being transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, which has a burn unit.

Brian says the accident involved some type of flammable substance in a tank, which exploded. The explosion was so strong that some nearby residents called police to report what they thought was a possible earthquake.

Whether or not the worker made a mistake in his work, or if his company wrongly placed him in a dangerous situation, is not clear. In such a case, it would be wise to obtain consultation from a personal injury law firm such as Kramer & Pollack in Mineola, NY. This firm specializes in burn-injury cases and can determine if a victim is entitled to a compensatory award that will aid the victim in their recovery and in their altered lifestyle going forward.

May 3, 2011

Carelessness With Fire That Can Cause Third-Degree Burns

In a town called Granby in upstate New York, a man was seriously burned last week when he simply placed meat carelessly into a hot pan.

Granby Center Fire Chief Donald LaBarge said the man was cooking inside his mobile home when he tossed more meat into the pan. Flames from splattering grease came back at him, causing second- and third-degree burns to the man's face, hands, arms and back.

The man was taken to a Syracuse hospital by ambulance. Damage to the mobile home was limited to the area around the stove, so it was not even a true fire. Instead, if the man was simply more careful about placing his food into a hot pan, this incident would not have happened.

In another instance where someone did not respect the danger of flammable materials, a college football player has had to make a long and difficult recovery last a year, all because he acted carelessly around a bonfire.

Since it was a friend's birthday and one of his roommates had a cabin not far from their college, Jim Geissler and his friends chose to have a party and bonfire there. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving and Geissler and his friends were ready to relax after a grueling four-month football season.

But Geissler's future flashed before his eyes in a blaze of fire. Later that night, a person at the party started to throw gas from a plastic can on the bonfire. That person later left that can too close to the fire. Geissler noticed the can by the fire and several people in the area that were a little too close to it as well. So he went over to kick the can to get it out of the way. That decision changed everything.

"The guy who left the can wasn't being smart, because there were about 20 people around the fire," Geissler said. "He had dropped the can by the fire. So I kicked it, but it exploded. My legs caught on fire. I had never felt pain like that before. It was like sticking your hand on a stove and you can't take it off. I remember there being a really big flame. It singed my hair and eyebrows. I just rolled around and tried throwing dirt on myself. It happened so fast."

After a year, Geissler's third-degree burns were mostly healed, but the injury simply did not have to happen. So keep these two stories in mind whenever you deal with cooking, fires, and other hot items. It's just too easy to get get badly burned.

April 28, 2011

Overlooked Fire Hazards in the Home Can Be Deadly

Here are two stories from this past week that should provide lessons about paying close attention to anything around the home that can cause a fire, or which can make your escape from a fire more difficult

First: On April 20, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered the recall of more than 7 million candles because of concerns the plastic cup that holds the candle could melt or catch fire.

The "tea lights" were sold under the brand names of Chesapeake Bay Candle and Modern Light. They were sold at stores such as Home Goods, Target, Wegmans and others nationwide between July 2009 and February 2011.

The CPSC says the candles have a clear plastic cup that can melt or ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard. In fact, the importer of the candles, Pacific Trade International Inc., has received at least one report of the plastic cup melting while being used. No burn injuries or property damage have been reported so far. Consumers can call the company at 800-331-8339 for more information, or visit www.chesapeakebaycandle.com.

Or, if you have had a problem with these types of candles or any other product that has caused a burn injury, you can contact Mineola-NY based personal-injury lawyers Kramer & Pollack LLP to find out if the maker of the product is liable for causing that injury.

Remember: Along with cigarettes, candles are one of the most common causes of fires in the home. It is very easy for children and even adults to knock over a candle--and remember, even if it does not start a fire, the candle's hot melted wax can land on someone's skin (and stick to it!), causing a second-degree burn or even a third-degree burn.

The second story is a sad one. A few days ago, a father, mother, and oldest child of three were killed in a fast-moving fire in their living quarters in New York City. Notice that I did not say "apartment"--the reason for this is because this family was living in an apartment building that had been illegally converted into many very small, one- and two-room apartments. This is illegal because it creates overcrowding in the building and it also affects the fire safety of everyone living there.

In this case, a fire began in one unit and spread so quickly that the three victims could not get through the maze of doorways fast enough to survive. And according to the New York Daily News, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now ordered top aides to crack down on such illegal apartments all around the city.

Conceding the city has not done enough, Bloomberg said he told the fire and buildings commissioners to "develop some new strategies for going after building owners that we suspect are most egregiously responsible for dangerous illegal conversions citywide."

He said the spread of illegal apartments "has been a problem for many, many years," and acknowledged the city's efforts have fallen short. The concession came as Bloomberg confirmed that the burned-down apartment house at 2321 Prospect Ave. had been converted into many illegal apartments.

"The real disgrace here is building owners who put profits ahead of people's lives ... and allow extremely dangerous conditions to persist," Bloomberg said.

The city received five complaints of illegal apartments with faulty wiring and blocked exits in the burned-down building. Building inspectors visited the site 10 times but, following department policy, took no further action after they failed to get in after two tries.

The FDNY vacated one floor of the building but never got back into the building to see if tenants had returned, Bloomberg acknowledged.

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) joined the growing chorus of outrage by scheduling a June hearing on how the city deals with suspected illegal apartments. She told the Daily News that Bloomberg has opposed pending Council legislation that would give inspectors more flexibility. A mayoral spokesman said Bloomberg believes the proposed legislation "will not stand up in court," but said he "will continue to work with the Council to find a solution."

Bloomberg opposes a bill sponsored by City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens) that would let inspectors cite a property owner for an illegal apartment based on circumstantial evidence like a large number of mailboxes or doorbells. Bloomberg also is against a bill sponsored by Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) that would strengthen city inspectors' ability to obtain court-issued access warrants based on affidavits from inspectors.

"This is an outrageous system that will lead to more deaths, but the administration is happy to let that exist," Vallone said. "If they have better legislation, [let them] propose it."

The Buildings Department gets about 20,000 complaints of illegal conversions a year, but is able to get in to inspect only about half of them, Bloomberg said.

The mayor said the city obtained twice as many warrants demanding property owners grant inspectors access in the past 28 months than it did in the six years before that.

April 26, 2011

Burn Survivor Stories: Children Getting Another Chance at Life

This month, a young Iraqi boy disfigured by a car bomb in Iraq came to Long Island, NY for surgery that could give him a chance at a normal life. Zeenabdeen Hadi, now four years old, was barely a year old when the blast burned part of his face down to the bone.

The Global Medical Relief Fund helped bring the boy and his uncle to the United States. The two are staying at Ronald McDonald House in New Hyde Park, NY and are expected to be there for several months. In addition to reconstructive surgery, doctors want to close a wound in Zeenabdeen's forehead that could lead to a brain infection.

This is not the first time that young victims of severe burns in Iraq have been brought to the U.S. for life-altering and even life-saving treatment of injuries resulting from third-degree burns. In 2007, a six-year-old Iraqi boy, who was horribly scarred after he was set on fire by insurgents outside Baghdad, underwent surgery in Los Angeles to repair his badly burned face. The boy, known only as Youssif, will need almost a year and several more surgeries to recover. The American public responded generously to his needs, donating $300,000.

One month before they were brought to Los Angeles, Youssif's desperate father approached a CNN television crew in Iraq and said, "Look what these monsters did to my boy." Donations poured into the Sherman Oaks-based Children's Burn Foundation. The foundation covered visas, plane tickets and medical costs.

Dr. Richard Grossman detailed the plan: First, some scar tissue was removed from the forehead and nose area and replaced with temporary grafts.Two skin expanders were inserted too. The following week, a full skin graft was performed with skin from Youssif's abdomen. Later, the expanded skin replaced the surrounding scar tissue.

The surgeries can never completely undo the disfigurement, but Youssif's spirits were very high about the idea of living a normal life.

Here's a similar story: In 2010, after a year in the U.S. where he underwent five surgeries to treat severe burns, an Iraqi boy landed at the Baghdad airport to reunite with his family. 13-year-old Mohammed wore a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and a T-shirt reading "Property of Michigan State" -- the university where his surgery was performed.

Caught in a house fire started by rebels when he was only two years old, Mohammed was severely scarred. Then three years ago, his father was gunned down by insurgents for working as translator for U.S. troops. When his uncle went to the morgue to claim the body, he too was killed by militants, who warned Mohammed's mother they would kill her and her children if she ever contacted the U.S. military.

Instead, Mohammed went on his own to an army checkpoint outside Ramadi in November 2008 and asked a Michigan Army National Guard physician assistant named Howell to save him and take him to America.

It took Howell six months to get permission, but he managed to get Mohammed to Michigan, find him a Muslim host family, and set up a foundation to pay for his operations.

Black, glossy hair now grows where only scar tissue was before. And Mohammed's left hand and wrist -- deformed in the fire -- now can field baseballs. He gained 26 pounds and grew 3.5 inches during his time in America -- and he now speaks English with an American accent.

Howell said they are hoping to find a way to someday get Mohammed back to the U.S. for college, hopefully at Michigan State.

April 21, 2011

Severe Burns and Smoke Inhalation From Sources You Can't Control

The CBS television station in Keller, Texas reported last week on this story of severe burns on one family's child and several other children, all of whom are in a special-needs class at their school:

Nicholas Chaney's parents trusted that he's taken care of at school just like he is at home. Nicholas, 18, has cerebral palsy. "I admire the teachers they do a very good job with them," says his mother Pauline Chaney.

But now that trust is shaken. "As I got closer, he smelled like burned hair and burned skin," says Nicholas' stepfather, Rudy Moreno. Moreno says that his stepson's special needs class at Keller High School went outside at the same time other students were using charcoal grills as part of a cooking class.

Moreno still doesn't know what exactly happened, but has pieced together that charcoal from the grills were gathered onto a cookie sheet. "There was a kettle placed on top of the charcoal. The kettle was removed, and I think the cookie sheet blew all the charcoal over," explains Moreno.

The grill was about 7 feet away from the special needs group. It was very windy day, and Moreno says the hot charcoal rained on some of the special needs students, including Nicholas, and burned them badly.

In pictures taken by Moreno there are buns on Nicholas's shirt, his hair singed and his scalped burned. Moreno rushed Nichols to the hospital. It was determined he suffered first and second degree burns from the charcoal.

But what bothers Nicholas' parents most is that no paramedics were called by the school, and they didn't even find out about what happened until 45 minutes later.

"I don't understand what they were thinking not calling a paramedic--they call the school nurses to take care of these children but the school nurses are not doctors," says Pauline Chaney.

In response the Keller School district released a statement reading: "We are aware of the situation that occurred at Keller High School on Wednesday. Two employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation."

Two other parents say their children are recovering at home with burns as well.

Another parent of a special needs child art the school wrote in an online forum the following: "To me, the issues are (1) why wasn't this [cooking] exercise postponed to a day with less wind; and (2) why were the special needs kids so close? These kids don't have the same reaction times and abilities to move away from hazards like blowing coals and embers. Looking at [the burns on] Nicholas' scalp, imagine what would have happened had he been turned the other way! Obviously wind is something that cannot be controlled, but when the event was held and the proximity of the kids could have been [controlled]."

And a neighbor of one of the burn victims write that there "is a third-degree burn on his back that will now require skin grafts. He has been on pain meds and running a fever since the incident. Negligence was allowing such an unsafe practice on such a windy day. Another negligence was not contacting paramedics immediately, especially considering none of the affected children could even speak for themselves to describe the extent of their pain!"

The second story I want to discuss, about the dangers of smoke inhalation, also comes from Texas: Nearly 1 million acres of land have burned in wildfires--and people with asthma, old people, young kids, and others all across the state are now more susceptible to breathing problems from inhaling smoke, soot and other particles from the fires.

The worst part is that these folks don't even have to be within 10 miles of the fire--they can still inhale small particles that drift long distances in the wind, and these can cause serious lung problems now and over the lifetime of the affected person.

So keep this in mind if you ever hear of a large fire in a town near yours. If so, take precautions with people you know who have breathing problems or who are very young or very old. Keep them indoors or perhaps even have them wear masks. And even if you are perfectly healthy, if you smell fire in the air even though that fire is far off, that air is not completely safe for you to breathe. Go indoors until it passes.

April 19, 2011

Measuring Severe Burn Rates for Surfaces Found at Home and Work

An interesting, though very academic, paper was published recently about the ways that investigators can measure how quickly skin can receive painful second-degree burns as well as far more damaging third-degree burns from coming in contact different surfaces. At the top of the list of fast skin-burning surfaces was aluminum, then steel, then brass, and then concrete (which most people might not have thought of). Actually, make sure you keep that last one in mind come the summertime, when people walk around outside in bare feet more often, and children play outside more often on such a surface.

Anyway, the research paper talked about a tool called a thermesthesiometer, which can be placed against the top or side of different appliances and other objects to see how quickly skin can burn on that surface. This is a test that a personal-injury attorney could ask for if a client received third-degree burns and wanted to investigate if another party was liable for the subsequent burn injury the victim received.

On a larger scale, it is critical that people know which surfaces in their homes, work sites, and other places can get hot and burn the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. Why? Because the epidermis is just .08 of a millimeter thick, so it can be burned away in just a few seconds on the types of surfaces listed above. And once that outer layer is burned away, you reach the dermis--the layer that holds the blood vessels and nerve endings. When the epidermis is burned away to the point that the dermis gets damaged, that is the classic definition of a third-degree burn.