March 3, 2011

A New Way to Regenerate Skin for Victims of Third-Degree Burns


Before I get to the topic in the headline, here's a quick story: As I've written about in past blog entries, even the most mundane situations inside the home can result in third-degree burns. Another example came to light this week in Worthington, VA, where a routine cooking accident severely burned a man and damaged much of the home.

It was this simple: A visitor to the home accidentally splashed oil from a deep fryer onto the stove and onto the floor. Unfortunately, the oil landed on the visitor's hands and feet, instantly causing second- and third-degree burns that required treatment at the West Penn Burn Center across the state border. Furthermore, the splashed oil also caused the window curtains to catch fire. Fire crews from four towns had to respond to the fire. The family now lives in a hotel temporarily, thanks to the American Red Cross.

Now for the good news that this blog's title refers to. The web site InHabitat.com reported this week that scientists from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are advancing in their goal to regenerate more of a person's own healthy skin to repair burn damage on another part of the body. Inspired by, of all things, the typical office printer and its ink cartridge, the research team believes it could soon "print" human skin.

Speaking to CNN, Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute, said that the project starts with duplicating a burn victim's healthy skins cells in a lab. Then, "the next step is to put the cells in the printer, in a cartridge, and literally print on the patient." The bio-printer is expected to be a converted office printer, but with the addition of a three-dimensional "elevator" that builds on damaged tissue with fresh layers of healthy skin. The printer is placed over the wound, allowing the flat-bed scanner to "move back and forth and put cells on the victim," Atala said. The cells then harden, mature and grow into new skin.

The team believes that this treatment could be a reality within five years. The project is currently in pre-clinical phases. Among the first victims who likely will test the treatment are wounded soldiers returning from combat. According to the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, burns account for between five and 20 percent of combat-related injuries. As a result, the Wake Forest institute will receive approximately $50 million in funding from the US Department of Defense.

It is not just the Wake Forest Institute that is working on this procedure. Other universities, including Cornell University and the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, are also working on similar projects and announced their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference this month.

And the next challenge for these scientists: Creating new organs from this same process.

March 1, 2011

A Terrible Month for Fires and Third-Degree Burns due to Carelessness

Unfortunately, it seems that the month of February 2011 can be used by fire-prevention experts as a useful lesson in how human error and carelessness can bring devastating consequences, in the form of third-degree burns and smoke inhalation, from fires.

First, in New York City on February 24, candles used in a bedroom caused a fatal five-alarm fire after they tipped over and ignited bed sheets. The fire left an elderly woman dead and also injured 20 firefighters and three residents. The occupant of the apartment where the fire began had placed the candles on the floor around her bed. At some point, they tipped over, and a guest doused the flames with water.

But then the guest made a terrible mistake--he opened a window to clear the smoke from the room, which allowed fresh air to feed the fire again. The fire department said this actually created a "blowtorch effect" that whipped through the open window and pushed the fire all the way through the apartment. Then, as the occupants were fleeing through the apartment, they left the bedroom door and the front door open, which allowed the fire to spread all the way into the building's hallway and quickly engulf the rest of the building.

"Time and time again we respond to tragedies that could have been so easily prevented," Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said. "This fire had so many of those elements. Hopefully others will learn from this tragedy."

That same day in Houston, four toddlers died in a fire at a day-care center simply because a pot filled with oil had been left unattended on a stove. In fact, the day-care provider was not even in the house at the time the fire started. Such carelessness is so egregious that local police have arrested the women running the day-care center.

Earlier in the month, a man in Ontario, Canada was found in his bedroom, dead from smoke inhalation, after a fire gutted his mobile home. The reason he could not escape a fire in such a small building? He collected too much furniture in the home, so that when the fire started he could not find his way around all those obstacles--the blinding and choking smoke overwhelmed him too quickly. While the fire might not have been preventable, the man apparently did not consider how his clutter would prevent his escape in case of fire. This mistake cost him his life.

Finally, in Allentown, PA, five people died in a natural-gas explosion and fire that enveloped a neighborhood here, marking the third major blast in the U.S. since September 2010 and heightening worries about aging gas pipelines that crisscross the nation. The late-night blast was so large that it leveled two homes and damaged 30 others.

UGI Utilities Inc., which provides natural gas to the neighborhood where the blast erupted, said a routine safety check the day before had turned up no sign of problems with the 12-inch-diameter cast-iron pipe that exploded.

The National Transportation Safety Board is set to hold hearings in the coming weeks on the recent blasts and consider improvements in pipeline safety. The review comes amid a growing consensus that the U.S. has a problem with aging infrastructure, particularly underground pipelines that are hard to inspect. The pipe that blew in Allentown had been in service since 1928.

In a Philadelphia gas explosion in January, utility workers were trying to shut off a leaking gas main after residents reported a strong smell of natural gas. The pipe that failed there was a 12-inch-diameter gas main made of cast iron dating from the 1940s. And another explosion in San Bruno, CA in September was likely caused by poor welds in a 60-year old pipeline made of steel.

Another explosion in Allentown in December 2006 happened when an inexperienced contractor unscrewed a plug on a gas meter, filling a nearby home with gas. That home and two others were destroyed by a blast and others were damaged, though there were no injuries The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last year approved a $160,000 settlement, including pledges by UGI to improve its procedures and training.

In winter, "gas lines are like water lines," said a UGI Utilities supervisor. "As the ground freezes and thaws, it tends to shift. Sometimes that cracks the pipes. And if gas is leaking out under the street, it's going to follow the path of least resistance. So it could seep in the ground, into your home, and any ignition source inside the home could create an explosion."

So the last lesson to take from these terrible stories is this: If natural gas is used in your home or office, always be alert for the smell of gas, and have the phone number of the utility company handy so you can call quickly, before there can be an explosion. Even a small spark can ignite natural gas that's in the air.


February 24, 2011

Spring is Coming, and so are Outdoor Fires--and Severe Burns


It's not even springtime yet, but the wildfire season has begun in the eastern U.S.

Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have experienced low humidity and little rain for a few months now. The result is that there are leaves, bushes, grass, and trees that can be easily ignited by human carelessness.

The largest fire of nearly 300 wildfires that sparked in eastern North Carolina on Saturday kept burning Sunday, and state forest service officials warned that the potential for fast-moving flames would last several days. Crews said they have the fire 80 percent contained and did not expect any home evacuations, but noted that the fire's spread can be unpredictable.

At one point, the flames jumped a fire-break created by firefighters and spread rapidly into other neighborhoods. Believe it or not, fires that become large enough can actually create their own strong winds, which allow them to spread even when humans try to stop that from happening.

But here is the most critical part of this story: Firefighters said a discarded cigarette from a car was likely the cause of at least one large woodland blaze, which singed 25 acres in an adjacent neighborhood. "It was very quick," a local firefighter said. "The residents saw it coming, and it just rolled down rolled down the hill and engulfed everything."

Homes gone, loves ruined--all from a cigarette tossed out a window!

But when it comes to fire, carelessness can happen even in instances where people have good intentions. When camping, for instance, it is very easy to have a fire get out of hand if precautions are not taken before the fire is started. Things like: Using an encased barbecue or stove to house the fire, or piling large rocks in a circle to encase the fire; clearing the ground around the fire of any leaves or other flammable debris; and having water or fire extinguishers ready in case the fire does generate a stray ember that spreads the fire outside its planned area.

Lastly, it is critical that adults NEVER leave a fire unattended even for a moment--the result can be devastating. Here's an example: In Phoenix, AZ on January 28, an 11-year-old boy was horribly burned in a backyard accident. And last week, he died of his severe burn injuries.

Joe Anthony Fernandez, 11, suffered burns over 90 percent of his body, many of them third-degree burns, when a wood-burning stove exploded. In fact, only the soles of his feet were not burned. Joe was with his family at a friend's home; they were in the backyard, using the metal wood-burning stove to keep warm. The rest of the family was getting ready to leave, but then noticed the boy was missing. That's when they heard an explosion.

Joe's sisters said that Joe found some type of gas or accelerant, and poured it into the open top of the stove to see what it would do to the fire. The accelerant caused the stove to explode.

Joe was air-lifted to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center. He spent three weeks in critical condition, and most of that time doctors kept him in a medically induced coma. Joe's body could not withstand the trauma, though, and he died last Friday.

Many children are fascinated with fire, and do not understand the danger involved. This is just another reason why it is critical to never walk away from an outdoor fire, or an indoor fireplace.

To read about the devastating effects of fire on a child who survived a similar explosion, read the blog post from February 23 by Larry Kramer of Kramer & Pollack LLP. The details of that child's recovery will make you think much harder about protecting other kids from situations where they are left alone even for a moment, and have an opportunity to cause a fire to spread or an explosion to occur.

February 23, 2011

Third Degree Burns and Smoke Inhalation, gas explosion 3

This is the story of "D" (we will use "D" to protect her identity). "D" was severely injured as the result of a gas explosion which also injured her 3 sisters and took her mother's life. Her story is compelling, sad and heart warming. She was in no uncertain terms on death's doorstep but she endured. We (Kramer & Pollack, LLP) were there with her in the hospital through every step of her ordeal.

"D" suffered third degree burns over 70% of her body. She was hospitalized for 10 months. She had several skin graft procedures. "D" went into cardiac arrest and required advanced cardiac life support. A Tracheostomy was performed to help her breath. Her esophagus was burned b/c she apparently inhaled at the moment of the explosion. Her teeth were also burnt. She had to learn how to breathe and speak through her tracheotomy (something she found very uncomfortable). Her fingers were so badly injured that they auto amputated (parts of her fingers just fell off). She suffers from keloid scars. She was required to wear a compression mask (on her face) and a compression garment for 24 hours a day. She was unable to walk at first but with extensive rehabilitation she regained her muscle tone and she is now able to walk. She suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the explosion, the incredible pain and the loss of her mother. She was almost 5 and a half at the time of the explosion.

"D" is now in school. She has difficulty with school but she perseveres. Like her sisters, she is an inspiration to all who know her. "D" is one of the best examples of the ability of the human spirit to overcome, endure and excel.

February 22, 2011

Survivors of Third-Degree Burns Help Each Other Move Forward with Life Again


A very informative and heart-warming story came from the local newspaper in Portland, Oregon last week, related to the difficult process of emotional healing for victims of disfiguring third-degree burns.

The article explained the uplifting happenings that take place during a regular gathering of a group called Portland Burn Survivors Inc. In fact, the writer of the story seemed to be moved by one of the very first things the group does once everyone arrives at the restaurant--they make a toast that goes, "Cheers for being alive!"

The article goes on to say that until about 30 years ago, surviving a severe burn meant constant pain and medical complications that usually led to premature death. But technological advances mean that many more people today survive severe burns. The problem is, the emotional trauma of living with bad scars and other complications are very recent too, so there is not a lot of research about exactly how burn victims need to think and act in order to lead happy lives.

As for the regular meetings, "It's better than hanging out around the house with my cats, watching TV, being isolated," said one person. "When you almost die and then you come back, you think: I want to live." But living normally will take a lot of mental strength every day.

The first week in February is National Burn Awareness Week. The American Burn Association encourages these type of meetings so that people make the first efforts to step out into the world again. The Portland Burn Survivors also tries to raise thousands of dollars each year to help survivors, whose care costs often exceed their insurance.

One member whose hands and fingers were severely damaged said what many in the group, and many other burn victims around the country, are surely thinking:
"People avert their eyes when they see me," she said. But "I'd rather converse and have people talk to me," which is part of the reason why she comes to the group. Then again, another member disagreed with her. "I'd prefer that they avert their eyes. I don't want to see [them] gawking at me."

Clearly, each burn victim is going to approach their condition differently in their minds, but it really helps that they are able to talk about the emotional aspects of having an injury that everyone can see, even years after the incident.

That member who wants people to not look at her much is a woman who escaped a fiery car crash. She was disfigured across her whole body, and surgeons reconstructed her face with grafts, and she wears a wig. What she has experienced from others is cruel, even if it is not usually intentional. People don't just gawk, she said--instead, they blurt out, "What the hell happened to you?" Other members nodded about this, because they have had to endure that thoughtless reaction as well.

But these people are helping each other move forward, and do things they wanted to do before they were burned. One man is now volunteering at the local Humane Society, and is also writing a book. He'd also like to go to college one day. One woman adds that she is "so glad for today. The purpose, I think, is to be grateful for my family and my friends and to live with what you have the day you have it."

There are some subjects that will always be difficult for members, like going on romantic dates again. One member said, "It's hard to flirt when you're the subject of pity." This might be true, but each time these people come together and talk, they each get a little bit stronger, which will always make them attractive to people.

To read the complete article, which is outstanding, please click here.

February 17, 2011

Preventing Fires and Severe Burns When in the Kitchen


Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for the Livonia, Michigan Fire & Rescue. He's written a book, "Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators" as a guide for local fire departments to bring the safety message to their communities. Here's a summary of his views on preventing kitchen fires and third-degree burns:

Under normal circumstances, most folks would not throw a kitchen cloth onto a burning stove, or help spread a fire from a pan to the cabinets, or add oxygen to a fire so that it flares up faster. Yet these things happens much too often because of panic. So let's take a look at how we can use safety sense in the kitchen to reduce the of having an unwanted fire.

Cooking is the leading cause of fires and civilian fire injuries in the United States. Two out of three reported home cooking fires start with the range or stove--and usually involve food, grease, rags, bags, cabinets, curtains, or other household items getting ignited.

Consider this statistic: Each year, there are more than 110,000 home fires involving cooking equipment! These cooking fires result in about 350 civilian deaths, 4,200 civilian injuries and about $453 million in property damage per year. Those numbers are just from the fires that were reported to authorities--and those statistics do not include the number of firefighters who are injured or killed trying to fight these fires.

The main reason cited for kitchen fires is not paying attention. Even leaving the kitchen for a moment or two with the stove on can cause plenty of danger and potential damage and injury. As we all know, a person's attention at home is often diverted for short periods by the children, the doorbell, a phone, radio, television, or a pet. Other times, people leave the kitchen and completely forget that they've started cooking! Once something gets overcooked, though, a fire can start and easily spread beyond the initial spot to other flammable or combustible products nearby, such as curtains and cabinets, and even other ingredients left on the counter.

Here are some safety tips for you to keep in mind when cooking:

• Never leave stove-top cooking unattended, and frequently monitor any food in the oven.
• Wear short sleeves or tight-fitting clothes--loose clothing can easily come into contact with hot objects or the stove flame. In an instant, you could be on fire!
• If clothing does catch fire, immediately stop, drop and roll back and forth over the flames to put them out. Do not run!
• Keep kids away from the cooking area by setting up a 3-foot buffer around the stove that kids should avoid. Keep the kids close enough to watch, but far away from hot objects.
• Always use oven mitts when handling hot cooking items, and don't rush when handling hot objects.
• Don't cook when you are tired, or if you have taken medicine that makes you drowsy.
• If a pan or pot of food catches fire, DO NOT use water. Slide a lid over the top of the pan or pot and shut off the heat to the burner. The lid will keep oxygen out and snuff out the fire.
• If there is a fire in the oven, shut off the heat to the unit and keep the door closed to starve the fire of oxygen.

Once you do these things, move to another room or outside the house and call the local fire department. You simply do not know if the situation will become one that you cannot handle on your own, so play it safe and call the professionals.

February 16, 2011

Third Degree Burns and Smoke Inhalation, gas explosion 2

In the first installment I wrote about the devastating injuries suffered by the mother of 4 children all under the age of 5. The 4 girls were also injured as a result of the gas explosion. This is the story of one of the girls, we will call her "L" to preserve her Identity.

At the time of the explosion "L" was 3 weeks shy of her 3rd birthday. She was a vivacious and fun loving child. As a result of the explosion she suffered third degree burns on 90% of her body. She was hospitalized for almost 4 months. As a result of the explosion she suffered severe damage to the optic nerve in her right eye. Her eye was surgically removed and a prosthetic was implanted. She also became blind in her left eye. The doctors surmised that this was a sympathetic response to the injury in the left eye. She is totally blind.

"L" suffers from Keloid scarring on her hands, face and body. She also suffers from contractures. Her range of motion has been compromised due to the extensive scarring. She suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. She is afraid to sleep alone.

We, (Kramer & Pollack, LLP) immediately got the family in touch with the Jewish Guild for the Blind as well as several other organizations that welcomed "L" with open arms. The circumstances she has endured were enormously devastating. But she has a very strong will and a very positive disposition. She now reads and writes Braille. She has excelled in school. She is a poster child for overcoming adversity and although she is very young she is an inspiration to everyone who knows her.

February 15, 2011

Cooking-Related Burns are Very Common--and Very Preventable!

For most people, food is a truly enjoyable part of life. But when people are careless with hot food, injuries can happen--even 3rd degree burns!

For instance, just last week a couple filed suit in the California courts against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, claiming their young son suffered "severe burns" as a result of scalding-hot nacho cheese served to them. In the suit, the parents of a four-year-old boy said they were eating dinner at Disney World in Orlando last March when the cheese was spilled on their son's face. The suit says that "the cheese was scalding hot and resulted in severe burns" to the child, and that Disney served the cheese "negligently and carelessly" and made "no effort" to regulate its temperature.

What's more, the suit says the child suffered "permanent scarring, pain and suffering" as a result of the burns, and his parents suffered "emotional distress" from witnessing his agony. The family asked the court for the medical and legal costs incurred, as well as punitive damages.

This story brought back a particularly painful memory for me. When I was five years old, I reached for a slice of pizza that was served to me on a paper plate. But when I picked up the slice and brought it towards my mouth, the oil was so hot that the cheese slid right off the pizza and landed on the inside of my left thigh. Unfortunately, I was wearing shorts, and the pain of the hot cheese was truly unbelievable. I jumped up and shook the cheese off my leg, but by that time blisters had started forming on the inside of my thigh. While the second-degree burns on my leg did heal and the pain subsided after about two weeks, I am still somewhat afraid to this day of the various heat sources in a kitchen setting.

It seems that my fears are not irrational: A Pittsburgh firefighter suffered third-degree burns last week as he responded to a house fire that started in the kitchen. Firefighters arrived at the house and found smoke billowing from a window because of burned food. One firefighter came in contact with a pot on the stove that contained grease, which found its way into a small opening between his heavy coat and his gloves and ran onto his arms. The firefighter was transported to a local hospital and treated for a truly terrible injury: third-degree burns.

Cooking is the leading cause of fires and civilian fire injuries in the United States. So you simply cannot be careless in the kitchen when it comes to protecting against accidental fires and being burned by very hot ingredients, pots, pans, and utensils. In this Thursday's blog, we will address the various safety precautions you can take in the kitchen. But we'll give you the first lesson today: Never rush when moving around the kitchen--you will make it much too easy for an accident to happen!

February 11, 2011

Skin Bank and Third Degree Burns

The skin as any other organ in the body can be damaged like in second and third degree burns. If the damage is big enough the body can't replace the skin. There are alternative ways to cover the injured area and one of the methods used is allograft which is skin taken from another human being and given it to another. One of the major traumas the skin is exposed to is burns and in severe burns one of the methods used to replace skin is using allograft.

Skin banks are present in many parts of the world. They use skin from donor people after their death who provided consent to donate their skin. Usually skin banks are located near burn centers or as part of the hospital that contains the burn center.

Donors while they are alive sign a donation form with the presence of witnesses allowing their skin to be donated after their death. Anyone can be a donor and by being a donor this will not affect the person in any way regarding the care and treatment that he/she is receiving while they are alive.

Screening of the donor:

Before taking the skin, screening is done to make sure that there isn't any reason that may lead to rejection the donor. A full accurate medical and social history is taken associated with a complete physical exam of the cadaver to make sure that there isn't any reason that would prevent the use of the skin.

Screening for infection includes:

  • Screening for HIV.
  • Screening for hepatitis B.
  • Screening for hepatitis C.
  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus types I (HTLV 1).
The skin is collected as soon as possible and if it's delayed for any reason the body is kept refrigerated and the skin is collected within a certain time. The skin is retrieved in the morgue under aseptic conditions (sterile). Usually the skin is taken from the upper calves, thighs, hips and torso. When the skin is in the skin bank, cultures are obtained for fungi, yeast, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.

Causes that lead to the skin being unsuitable for transplantation may include:

  • Acute burn injury.
  • Malignancy of the skin.
  • Infections of the skin.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Recent chemo or radiotherapy.
  • Autoimmune disease affecting the integrity of the skin
  • Collagen vascular disease affecting skin integrity.
  • Extensive trauma to the skin.
  • Severe dermatitis.
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.
February 10, 2011

To prevent fires, burns and smoke inhalation, keep a tidy home

I've posted a few entries lately about home fires that began because of unusual circumstances. In one instance, a fire destroyed a house and nearly killed two girls because clothing was laying across an extension cord that shorted out.

But just because a fire started from an unusual source doesn't mean that it was not preventable. In New York City this week, a retired schoolteacher died after a fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. in her apartment. While the cause of the blaze is not yet known, neighbors say that the 82-year-old woman was a hoarder whose clutter in her third-floor apartment was surely a fire hazard. A religious woman, "she saved fliers from every church she had ever been to," said the building's manager. "I helped her move apartments just to give her a clean start. She used to say, 'When I was growing up, I didn't have anything.'" That seems to be why the woman rarely threw anything away. But when the fire began, the woman, who used a cane, could not get out of her front door. In fact, she was heard yelling, 'I'm scared!" It's a tragic story.

Now, most of us do not rise to the level of hoarder--but collecting too much stuff within the home is a problem that many of us do have. While this retired schoolteacher had scores of flammable papers all around her house, it's likely that many of us have "overcollected" things that aren't necessary anymore. What's more, even simple messiness with items that you do use regularly can pose a serious fire hazard within the home.

There are two reasons why messiness can be deadly. First, having papers, books, clothes, and other things laying around could rapidly fuel a fire that might start in the kitchen, or from a candle, or from some source that otherwise could have been stopped with a home fire extinguisher. Second, if a fire does start, it is much harder to get out of the house if you have to step over or around items laying about. And because smoke from a fire is choking and blinding (which is why experts say you should immediately get down on the floor and crawl to an exit), having obstacles in the way can only make it more difficult to get out before you suffer smoke inhalation or potentially fatal third-degree burns.

If you think that you don't need to tidy up your home frequently and make sure all exits are clear of clutter, consider this story: In Washington state last week, a man nearly died from burns and smoke inhalation when he accidentally started a fire in his tent with fuel for a small heater. In other words, the fire and smoke got so overwhelming so quickly that the man was not even able to move a few feet to get out of a tent! Now imagine if you have to find your way to an exit in a large house that is filling with black smoke and flames. A frightening thought indeed.

February 9, 2011

Third Degree Burns and Smoke Inhalation, gas explosion

A woman was home in her apartment with her 4 children (all under the age of 5) when an enormous explosion occurred. The fire Marshall determined that the gas line in back of the stove had corroded and cracked. Gas escaped through the crack. From a physics standpoint the concentration of gas within the apartment had to fall within a very tight parameter in order to pose a danger of explosion. If the concentration of the gas was to little there would be no explosion. Conversely, if the concentration was too great there would be no explosion.

As it turned out the family had recently moved into the apartment. They were not familiar with the neighborhood. They did not speak English and therefore they did not go out of the apartment. It had been unseasonably warm. They were using a device that blew air across ice to cool the apartment. The windows had been closed. With the windows and doors closed the gas accumulated in the apartment. Once the concentration of the natural gas in the apartment reached the combustible level all that was required was a spark. Merely turning on a light, using a cell phone or the pilot light was all that was necessary to ignite the ticking bomb.

Fortunately we (Kramer & Pollack, LLP) were retained within a few days after the explosion. We had a team of cause and origin experts in the building 10 days after the explosion. We hired investigators to canvas the neighborhood, interview tenants of the building and obtain statements of anyone with any knowledge of the incident. No expense was spared. What we found through our investigation was that there had indeed been complaints to the gas company as well as the super and management of the building prior to the explosion. We found a building tenant who said that the gas company had been in her apartment 3 times in 2 months. Despite the 3 visits from the gas company she still smelled gas in her apartment (which was 2 floors above our client's apartment).

The explosion was so powerful it knocked down walls, blew out windows and melted televisions. The mom was admitted to the burn center for treatment of her third degree burns and smoke inhalation. She was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma until she expired 3 and 1/2 weeks after the explosion.

February 8, 2011

A Bad Week for Fires, but Good News Arrives for Victims of Severe Burns

The cold weather blanketing much of the United States in this first week of February is causing many incidents of fire as people try to keep warm. For instance, in suburban New York, five firefighters were hospitalized with smoke inhalation after battling a basement house fire. One of those firefighters was in critical but stable condition and undergoing hyperbaric chamber treatment before going into the intensive care unit.

A local fire marshal said the blaze was not suspicious; the fire broke out around lunchtime and took about an hour to get under control. The firefighters were injured while in the basement, where there was a sudden eruption of flames, said one police detective. A fire chief added that "the fire at one point flared up on them," probably from a rush of oxygen that came into the basement from a door or an area of wall being opened to the outside. See a video of the fire here.

The lesson here: If you have a fire in your home, it is best to simply close the door to the room where the fire is burning and immediately go outside your home to call the fire department -- do not try to put out the fire yourself! In fact, closing a door or window as you leave will actually help to starve the fire of the fuel it needs to burn -- oxygen.

A second recent fire holds another lesson for all of us. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a warehouse of costumes that were to be worn during the upcoming Carnival holiday went up in flames. The most notable aspect of this fire, though, was how quickly the warehouse burned. The reason: Costume clothing is generally much more flammable than everyday clothing. Parents should keep this fact in mind, because just one moment of carelessness around the house--such as laying down a child's costume near a source of heat, or holding a birthday candle too close to a child wearing a costume -- can cause third-degree burns to someone wearing or holding a costume.

Happily, I end today's blog with good news for burn victims. Dr. Jorg Gerlach of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh has developed a technique whereby a spray gun can "shoot" a patient's own stem cells onto burn-damaged skin to treat and heal burns more quickly. So a second-degree burn -- a burn that penetrates the entire outer layer of the skin into the inner skin layer -- can disappear within days. The spray nozzle, using a patient's own cells, helps to cover the wounded area just like a paint gun would cover a wall. "The most critical cells are present, and we are using those cells right away from the patient. We just need to take care that we are distributing the cells nicely over the wound."

Normally, sheets of skin are grown over the course of a month, and patients sometimes die of infection during the wait. In contrast, the new approach takes just 90 minutes and burns can heal in as little as four days, Gerlach said. The skin gun was featured on the National Geographic Channel this week. See the video here Or read more about the process here.

February 4, 2011

Biobrane and Third Degree Burns

Is a temporary skin substitute that is man made. It is a white stretchable dressing that is made from a silicone layer and a nylon fabric to which collagen has been chemically bounded. Biobrane is used to cover the site of a burn wound like second and third degree burns and can also be used to cover the skin graft donor site. Before it covers the burn wound, the burned area is washed and all the burned skin is removed, after placing Biobrane on the burned area, it's wrapped with a bulky gauze and an ace wrap dressing. The dressing stays in place for 24-36 hours.

How to care for Biobrane in the first 24-48 hours:

Keep the dressing dry, avoid removing the dressing, move the area covered by the dressing only as needed and avoid extra movement.

Caring for the wound:

Bathe or shower daily, gently wash the Biobrane with a separate washcloth. Avoid scrubbing it and don't submerge it into tab water. Rinse it well with running water and pat it dry with a clean towel.

You have to check the wound for any signs of infection such as redness, swelling, bad smell, wound drainage (see wound infection).

When the wound starts to heal, Biobrane starts to lift up. Gently trim off the loose edges of Biobrane using a clean scissor that has been cleaned with alcohol. Apply lotion to the area where you have trimmed Biobrane. You should stop trimming if it causes bleeding or it's painful. Biobrane does not need to be covered with dressing at this time.

Follow the instructions given to you by your health care provider and call your doctor if any of the following is present:

  • A build up of fluid under the Biobrane.
  • The skin around the wound shows increased swelling, redness or feels hot.
  • Wound with a bad smell.
  • Fever above 100.5 degree F.
  • Bleeding.
  • Increased pain.
Kramer and Pollack, LLP; are VERY well versed in all aspects of representing burn injury victims. They have handled a multitude of burn injury cases ranging from hot water scald burns, to stove tipping cases to explosion cases. They are competent, experienced and very thorough 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.
February 3, 2011

Smoke Inhalation from Unusual Fire Sources

In a blog post about ten days back, I talked about the need to check your home for potential fire hazards on a regular basis. Red flags that come to mind right away are extension cords on carpets, space heaters too close to furniture or clothing, and candles left to burn for too long at a time.

Of course, almost immediately after posting that blog, I see an example of a fire hazard that most of us would never have thought of: lint in the clothes dryer. On January 26, two residents of Rochester, NY had to go to the hospital and receive oxygen therapy quickly to stave off potentially fatal effects of smoke inhalation--even though they were involved in what the local fire department considered a minor house fire, and had suffered no second- or third-degree burns.

Just after 7 a.m. that day, the clothes dryer caught fire in the basement of the house, probably because its lint trap was overly full. Although the residents noticed the smoke and left the house to call for help, and it took firefighters just 15 minutes to control the fire (which was contained to the basement) the two people told emergency responders that they did not feel well and were taken to the hospital as a precaution. Because smoke rises, the entire house sustained damage from the smoke. What's more, there were no working smoke detectors inside the house, though local firefighters installed detectors in the house right after the fire, as a courtesy. But if the fire started while the residents were asleep, the lack of smoke detectors could have produced a tragic outcome.

Here's another unusual situation, but one that car owners should always remember. In New York City this past week, several cars have caught fire because of the cold weather. Huh? Well, it seems that as people try to maneuver their cars out of snowy parking spaces, the tires often start to spin. But if the driver keeps a foot on the gas pedal and spins a tire for too long, the tire can heat up and catch fire, and set the entire car ablaze! In fact, this happened right in my own neighborhood earlier this week--I witnessed the fire myself. And if the driver was not aware that his tire had caught fire and ignited the trunk of his car, he could have been overcome by smoke inhalation and died right in the car in seconds.


February 2, 2011

Third Degree Burns, Stove Tipped

A family moved into an apartment that contained a free standing oven with a stove cook top. When they moved into the apartment the oven was filthy. The super of the building refused to clean the oven. An 11 year old girl decided to help her mother by cleaning the inside of the oven. Her life changed that day forever.

She opened the door of the oven and wiped down the door. She then reached into the oven to clean the inside of the oven. While reaching in she leaned on the door causing the oven to tip over. Her mother, meanwhile had been boiling chicken on the stove top. When the oven tipped, the pot of boiling water fell. The 11 year old girl suffered third degree burns on approximately 20% of her body. She was frightened and in a great deal of pain.

At first glance one might say why would the landlord be responsible for this tragic accident? Through good fortune the family retained Kramer & Pollack, LLP. We immediately set out to investigate the circumstances of this tragedy. We learned that the super of the building installed the oven. The oven, when shipped contained an anti-tip device along with instructions for proper installation. The anti tip device is essentially a small L bracket that gets mounted to the bottom of the wall and when you slide the oven into place the oven will not tip. With the bracket in place the door of the oven could support 250 lbs. The 11 year old weighed about 65 pounds. If the anti tip device were installed properly this accident would never have happened. The cost of the anti tip device about $3.79.

If you would like to read the heroic struggle and inspiring outcome as written by the now grown 11 year old just click on: Dashanda's Story