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As a follow-up to my August 9 blog, I found a late-July article in The Los Angeles Times about 19-year-old Derek Thomas, a burn victim whose strong determination, positive attitude and faith have helped him to get out of the hospital and go home even though he was given just a 1 percent chance of survival when he suffered third-degree burns last year.

Nearly 300 people in Encinitas, CA welcomed home Derek, who was burned over 85 percent of his body in a car crash a year ago. The crowd of friends that gathered from the local high school, church and the YMCA where Derek once worked lined up along the driveway at Scripps Rehabilitation Services, where Derek is expected to continue physical therapy for several more weeks.

Upon his arrival from the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center the crowd began cheering, shaking pom-poms and waving signs that said, “We love you D-Rock!” and “I am not a body. I am a soul!”

Earlier, at the Grossman Burn Center, Derek met with some of his rescuers for the first time: the men who helped him right after the car wreck, the emergency room personnel, and the medical staff who flew him via emergency jet to Los Angeles.

During his 11-month stay at the burn center, Derek underwent 42 surgeries and had to have every inch of his burned skin scraped off. As he was leaving for good, much of the staff was in tears as they wished Derek farewell with a pot-luck dinner of homemade dishes, including some of Derek’s favorites.

At about 10 a.m. the next day, Derek sat in a chair flashing a victorious smile during a news conference. He rose briefly to speak to a room full of reporters. What he said that day should serve as an inspiration for anyone who is severely burned, or who suffers some other physical or emotional trauma and hardship in life:

“There are times when you’re going to be down and you’re going to think that there’s nothing in you that can keep on going, But if you have faith and you believe you’re not alone, then you’ll come out on top.”

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In St. Paul, MN last month, a 19-year-old man named Antoine Willis was physically and psychologically injured when his mother’s boyfriend deliberately set him on fire after an argument.

Much of his body still hurts from the severe burns he suffered, and Antoine still has nightmares about the attack. “Sometimes I’m even scared to go to sleep because I feel like he is going to try and come back and finish what he started. It hurts, emotionally and physically,” Antoine said. He has these nightmares even though the mother’s boyfriend is still in jail.

But while the severe burns slowly heal, Antoine recently suffered a new wound. Money from a bank account that was set up to help him pay for medical bills has gone missing. Antoine believes that his uncle and his mother are responsible for the money being gone. More than $4,000 was donated by strangers who wanted to help Antoine, but now at least $2,000 is missing.

Antoine said that his uncle opened up the account for him and put both of their names on the fund. By doing that, the uncle gained legal access to the money. Bank records show that there were two separate withdrawals of more than $1,000 each that Antoine did not know about.

Since the money disappeared, Antoine says that he hasn’t heard from or seen his mother or his uncle. He added that they both struggle with gambling and drug addictions. Antoine said that all he wants is his money back so that he has the best chance to make a full recovery.

“It was just heartbreaking, to tell you the truth,” says Antoine. “It really hurts to know that they would do something like that to me. They know that I’m going through all this pain and suffering.”

Willis was to have surgery a few days after finding out about the missing money. He wasn’t sure how much longer he would be in the hospital, and now he isn’t sure how he will pay for his bills once he gets out.

A spokesperson at the bank that opened the account said that what Antoine’s uncle allegedly did is not illegal, because he is an official signer on the account. As a result, Antoine cannot file a lawsuit against his uncle to get the money back. Antoine has now removed his uncle’s name from the fund, so any donations coming in will only be accessed by Antoine.

This story provides a lesson that all accident victims and injured people must think about as they recover: If someone does set up a fund to accept donations to pay for a victim’s medical bills, the victim must make sure that he or she knows whose name is on the account. If not, then it’s possible that the money that should go to medical bills can be used for other purposes–without the victim even knowing about it!

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As a burned patient you have certain rights being in a hospital or a physician’s clinic. These rights are available to all patients. Many hospitals in New York and other states have patient advocates, their duty is to help you if you have any problrm during your path of treatment.
Your rights include the following:

  1. The right to be informed of all your rights.
  2. The right to have adqequate health care.
  3. The right to choose your care provider.
  4. The right to recieve information from your doctor regarding your treatment.
  5. The right to discuss the benifits, side effects, risks, cost and reasonable alternatives .
  6. The right to make your own decisions regarding the care you are receiving.
  7. The right to keep your medical information private.
  8. The right to get a copy of your medical records.
  9. The right to receive reasonable continuity of care.

What is an informed Consent:

An informed consent is a consent taken from the patient for a surgical or medical procedure or a treatment after achieving an understanding of the relevant medical facts and the risks involved. The informed consent is a kind of protection for the physician from being sued in the future for negligence and malpractice. Patients should be competent in order to give an informed consent, if the patient is incapable of providing competent consent a family member will do that.

For you as a patient, what should you understood from the informed consent:

  1. The type of procedure done and wether it’s a major or a minor one.
  2. The purpose of the procedure.
  3. The benefits, side effects and risks of the procedure.
  4. The other alternative methods of treatment.

What should you do before signing an informed consent:

Burn injuries can be overwhelming for both the patient and his/her relatives due to the magnitude of the injury. Patients and their relatives should remain calm as much as they can, they should read, uderstand and ask any question they have regarding the procedure to be done, it’s benifits, risks and alternatives.

Don’t feel intimidated to ask any question that comes in mind. If it’s an elective procedure then try to arrive early so that you have enough time to read and fully understand all the information on the informed consent (take your time and don’t rush). If you don’t understand something in the consent, don’t hesitate to ask as often these consents has medical terms that are hard to understand.

By signing an informed consent form you are giving your permission to the treating physician to perform the procedure required and as every procedure has it’s own risks and complications, you should feel fully confident that all your questions and concerns has been answered. In most cases your treating physician will explain to you the content of the informed consent before doing the procedure needed.

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.

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Here are just two more examples of families suffering the mental anguish of an injured child because of a single moment of carelessness:

First, a toddler in a home outside Atlanta had to be flown to a burn unit at a hospital in the city after being scalded by a bowl of Ramen noodles she pulled off a table. The Times of Gainesville reported a helicopter took the 14-month-old girl to Grady Memorial Hospital. A county sheriff said the little girl suffered severe burns to her upper chest and abdomen, but that she’s expected to survive.

The sheriff added the girl was being cared for by a babysitter at the home when the incident happened around lunchtime. The family might now investigate whether the babysitter has legal liability for the toddler’s injuries.

In a second incident, a 5-year-old boy in a town outside Seattle went to a local hospital in critical condition after suffering severe burns while playing with fingernail-polish remover and a lighter. The boy suffered burns over 30 percent of his body and was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The boy’s mother was home with him at the time of the accident and called 911. Police, fire, and medic crews from two counties responded to the apartment. It is not known how the boy managed to find a lighter while his mother was at home with him. But her mental anguish will probably take much longer to heal than her son’s injuries.

In short: Children must be watched closely at all times, because it only takes a second or two for them to get into situations where they can be start a fire or get burned severely.

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A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle offered up the amazing story of Derek Thomas, a 19-year-old athlete who for the past year has endured indescribable pain during the process of healing from third-degree burns so severe that he was given a 1 percent chance of survival by doctors.

But he has made it through the ordeal, and is working not only on getting stronger but also on becoming just another person with a normal daily routine, which is a blessing too many of us take for granted.

One day in August 2010, Derek sat in an SUV that was returning him home to San Diego from athletic training in the mountains. As he dozed off, the driver swerved the SUV, and it skidded across lanes of traffic, rolled over, and grinded along on its side. It then burst into flames.

When Derek arrived by emergency jet at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center, he had third-degree burns across more than 85 percent of his body.

The hospital doctors had seen terrible cases before: firefighters burned on the job, students burned in chemistry labs, toddlers scalded with boiling soup. But Derek’s case was among the worst–his burns penetrated to the muscle, threatening to shut down his kidneys and liver. He also could have started bleeding uncontrollably at any time.

For the next four months, Derek lay in a medically-induced coma to spare him excruciating pain. Every inch of his burned skin had to be scraped off to protect him from infection. His body swelled to more than twice its normal size.

Derek’s parents and two sisters sat in a small waiting room during each of the many surgeries. Doctors had to peel skin from the few areas where Derek wasn’t burned (his inner thighs and lower abdomen), stretch the skin with a machine, and then graft it a little bit at a time onto Derek’s body.

Every few days, doctors repeated the process, trying to fight against infection. Derek’s fever often reached 105 degrees. He also took in 7,000 calories a day through a tube, which is how much his body needed just to stay alive. He still lost more than 60 pounds over the months in a coma.

But about four months after the accident, Derek started to emerge from the coma. He learned to swallow again, and to tighten his left hand. He also learned to speak using a special tube. And on December 11 he spoke his first three words: “Happy Birthday, Mom.” His family was overjoyed.

After five months, Derek was no longer in critical condition. He was alert enough to ask about his girlfriend Amanda, who was also riding in the SUV when it crashed. His parents had to tell him that she had died, which caused Derek so much psychological stress that it threatened his physical recovery.

His family and mental-health specialists helped him with the grief, but even today, it hurts Derek too much to discuss Amanda, his girlfriend. But Derek often talks to her, and he talks to God. “I channel my bad thoughts toward Him. I look to Him,” he said. “It’s not easy, but I try.”

For Derek, the hardest part is finally over. But he will face difficult issues for the rest of his life. Here is just one of them: Before the accident, Derek was a very good-looking boy, said his friends. Now, he will never look anything like he did before the accident–but his inner strength plus counseling will help him make peace with his new appearance.

In fact, Derek’s recovery will last for the rest of his life. But Derek the survivor is an inspiration to others who are severely burned. As they endure the physical and emotional pain of their injuries, other burn survivors have Derek’s outstanding example to look to when they need strength.

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In my August 2 post, I described recent incidents of fire at hotels and concert venues, and advised readers to think ahead of time about what to do in case a fire breaks out when you are in a hotel, arena, store, or anyplace else outside your home.

Well, if those stories didn’t convince you to think more about fire safety, hopefully this story will. In New Ulm, Minnesota, the Bohemian Bed and Breakfast had been a centerpiece of this small town since 1899. But on a night in early July, police and firefighters responded to a fire at 1:45 a.m. Unfortunately, within minutes the fire had engulfed the front of the house.

One man who lives in an apartment next to the inn said that when he smelled smoke early Saturday, he thought it was coming from a campfire. But then “I heard breaking glass, and then I saw a brighter light than the street light,” he said. When he looked out of his second-story window, he saw the front of the house engulfed.

He also saw one of the homeowners standing next to the burning house, yelling for his trapped wife to toss their children from the window of the third story, where the family lived. The neighbor said he couldn’t see anyone in the smoky window and he heard no response–after all, smoke can make a person unconscious after just a few breaths, and death from poisonous smoke inhalation can come quickly after that. In fact, 80 percent of fire deaths are from smoke inhalation rather than severe burns!

This is exactly why, even if you are at a place like a small bed and breakfast, you should learn where all the windows and doors are located, and the fire extinguishers too. Remember: there will be absolutely no time to figure things out in the middle of smoke and fire. In such a situation, you have only a few seconds to save your own life and the lives of others.

In all, six people died in this house fire. “I think the whole town is devastated,” said another neighbor, who as a child played in the inn when her aunt and uncle owned it. “We’ve never had a fire as tragic as this,” said a New Ulm Police Commander. He added that arson isn’t considered likely, but authorities are still working to determine a cause for the fire.

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Do you know how easy it is to risk your life in a public place? Well, if you don’t think about what you will do in case of fire when you are in a public place, then it is very easy to risk your life.

The stories below provide perfect examples of how close you can come to being killed by third-degree burns or smoke inhalation in just a few minutes.

On July 11, at least two people were transported to local hospitals for smoke inhalation following a four-alarm fire that struck a Days Inn hotel just outside Baltimore, MD. According to a Baltimore County Fire Department spokesperson, the fire was initially reported at 8:14 p.m. But guests who had been staying at the hotel say that fire alarms had gone off as much as an hour earlier–many people did not know there was a true emergency until they encountered heavy smoke filling the hallways.

“We heard the fire alarm go off, then stop, and go off again,” said one guest who was checked into a third-floor room. “We called the front desk and they said it was nothing, just somebody playing with the fire alarm. Then the TV power went out and we started to smell smoke.” In fact, the smoke spread so quickly that “some people coming down the stairs from the upper floors had trouble breathing,” said the guest.

Another guest said that “I was on my way out of the room when the TV cut out. Then I noticed that the elevator wasn’t working. When I came out to the lobby, there was a lot of smoke.”

“The fire alarms went off, then it stopped,” said another guest. “About an hour later, that’s when we saw the smoke. And when I came out, I couldn’t see, there was so much smoke. I couldn’t even breathe.” The cause and extent of the fire were not yet known.

Also on July 11, three people received treatment for smoke inhalation while Milwaukee fire crews had to rescue two other people during a fire at a hotel in that city. The fire happened just before midnight at the American Inn. Witnesses say that at least two people jumped from an upper level. The fire came from a ground-level room of the extended stay motel. “I was sleeping, and someone started beating on my door,” said one guest on the second floor. “There was a lot of flames, a lot of smoke. We couldn’t see anything so I got the towel in my hand, gave it to my wife to put over her nose and mouth.” The Red Cross was helping people who the hotel was serving. Milwaukee Police say that electrical problems caused the fire.

Lastly, on July 8 in Dallas, a concert by popular singer Rihanna was cut short and the arena was evacuated after a fire broke out above the stage. Some witnesses say a light on the stage caught fire during her show. Dallas fire department officials said that calls came in saying the curtains and part of the stage decorations caught fire. But according to others who attended the concert, it appeared the fire started from pyrotechnics that were part of the show.

But here is the scary part: The arena did not call for an immediate evacuation, so some people rushed the exits and caused a dangerous backup.

Whenever you are in a hotel, an arena, or some other public place, please take just a moment to locate the fire exits. This way, if you see or smell smoke or fire, or hear an alarm, or if someone else yells ‘fire,’ you can get to an exit within seconds. It could be the difference between life and death. Here is an excellent guide for what to do to prepare for fire in a public place: The Seattle Fire Department Fire Prevention Division’s handbook.

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In San Jose, CA in late June, a five-alarm fire roared through a college fraternity house. One student said he awoke around 3 a.m. to screams and chaos: “I heard people screaming that there was smoke in the house and to get out,” he said. “Everyone was screaming–we went to all the rooms, knocking on doors” before getting out of the house.

Another student had just bought new furniture in anticipation of spending his summer at the house. His room, along with others on the second floor of the house, was destroyed in the fire. In fact, the blaze displaced 28 people and caused an estimated $1.7 million in damage, but everyone who lived there did emerge safely because of the shouts and warnings from other occupants.

The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the 28 people who were displaced. San Jose State University set up a relief fund for the displaced students and those interested in donating to the fund can do so at

The fraternity house, owned by university alumni, might have caught fire because of a situation in the laundry room–it could have been an electrical wire or a fuse-box problem, or even something as simple as the lint trap in the clothes dryer becoming too full and then overheating. Full lint traps are common causes of house fires.

The lesson from this story is that even when kids are properly taught fire safety at home, once they go to college or into an apartment of their own, there are outside factors that they have to think about when it comes to staying safe from fire, severe burns, and smoke inhalation. Fortunately, the kids in this fraternity house knew to go around to all the rooms and yell and bang on doors while it was still safe to do so. Then, as the fire got bigger, they knew where the exits were. This are two things all kids should be taught by their parents.

Kids need to know that a lot of things are out of your control once you go out into the world, and you have to plan ahead with things like fire safety so that you do the right things if a fire or other safety emergency ever comes up.

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In early July in upstate New York, a 48-year-old Yates County man was seriously burned when a tractor-trailer caught fire while he was fueling it. The local newspaper reported that James Moore of Dundee was flown to the Kessler Burn and Trauma Center at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester after the accident in the town of Benton. The hospital listed him in satisfactory condition hours after he was admitted, which was lucky for Moore.

Sheriff’s deputies say Moore was pumping fuel into the big truck when the passenger side he was standing on caught fire. Moore suffered severe burns to his head, face, neck, chest and arms. Firefighters from two departments quickly extinguished the fire.

While the cause of the fire was not immediately determined, this incident provides a memorable lesson for everyone: Some of the most routine things we must do each day can pose a fire hazard, or cause a second-degree or even a life-threatening third-degree burn. Here are just a few examples:

–Using a charcoal or gas grill in areas that have an uneven floor, or are too small to move around easily, or which are enclosed. Also, using too much lighter fluid to start the grill.

–Leaving food unattended on a stove, even for a minute or two
–Placing clothes in a dryer without making sure the lint trap is cleaned out
–Not checking the temperature of faucet or bath water before you allow a child near the water
–Leaving kids in a car for any length of time during a hot day while you run into a store
–Allowing children to run barefoot on pavement or even beach sand on a summer day
–Pumping gas into your car while smoking (or simply being too rough with the fuel nozzle, which can cause a spark and ignite the gas fumes too)

–Smoking a cigarette during dry times of the year; even a small ember can ignite a fast-moving grass or leaf fire that can spread to nearby buildings
These are just a few of many, many possibilities we face in everyday life where a fire can occur. But if you give just a little thought before you do anything involving a fire or heat source, you will greatly lessen the chances of getting burned, or of anyone around you getting burned or suffering smoke inhalation.

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On July 11, dozens of residents of Quincy, Massachusetts were driven out of their apartment complex and one firefighter was injured in a Saturday night fire that officials say was ignited by an illegal patio grill.

The fast-moving fire began at about 9:30 p.m. It quickly spread from the second-floor patio to the building’s third floor, which was completely destroyed by the flames. What’s more, the first and second floors suffered severe water and smoke damage.

The next morning, firefighters were still dousing embers at a building that once contained 12 apartments. None of the people living in this building at the Faxon Park Apartment Complex were injured, but all have been displaced. The Red Cross is assisting them with temporary shelter.

Now, the lesson here is one you might not want to hear–especially in summertime when the desire to be outside and cook good food in the warm summer air is very tempting. But many precautions need to be taken whenever you are grilling over a charcoal fire or a propane-fueled fire, in order to avoid someone getting second- or even life-threatening third-degree burns.

First, the space needs to be large enough to allow for the grill and the person cooking to not be dangerously close to other people, or to the edges of the patio. A grill can be easily tipped over, and that would probably result in someone getting burned, either by charcoals or by propane gas that escapes from a ruptured tank–and those tanks do rupture more easily than you might think..

Next, there needs to be a fire extinguisher or a large bucket of water or a large wet towel nearby, in case of the fire gets out of hand and needs to be snuffed out quickly.

Just a little bit of precaution can make an afternoon or evening of using the grill for a cookout much safer for everyone who is enjoying the outdoors. And remember that grills are only for the outdoors–never use a grill indoors, as the smoke is very dangerous in enclosed spaces!