John B. Fortune, MD, FACS is a trauma and critical care surgeon at the UVM Medical Center. He is also a Professor of Surgery at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

Burn Awareness Week is February 6-13

With Burn Awareness Week upon us again, it is hard to believe that it has been a whole year since we have discussed issues of burn safety and treatment.

So, how are we doing nationally in terms of burn prevention?

According to statistics compiled by the American Burn Association, estimates of burn injury and deaths show that in the past year:

  • 450,000 Americans sustained burn injuries serious enough to require medical treatment
  • 45,000 burn victims required hospitalization for their burns
  • 3,500 burn injuries resulted in death.  Put into perspective, this means that one person dies of a burn injury every two-and-a-half hours in the United States.

Of course, compared to the national debt, these are pretty small numbers, but they still represent an enormous amount of tragedy, pain, and suffering that occurs from a potentially preventable health problem.  In our region, we still have occasional deaths from burn injury, most of which are related to structure fires. Patients with burn injuries continue visit us every week in our clinic. We can do better at avoiding this problem!

And how are we doing at the UVM Medical Center?

Margaret Tandoh, M.D. – Burn Director

at the UVM Medical Center, we are trying to do our share by continuing to improve our burn care services to achieve the best possible medical outcomes for our patients.  The most significant change has been the recruitment of a new burn director, Margaret Tandoh, MD, who joined our team in July.  Prior to coming to Vermont, Dr. Tandoh was the burn director at the Clark Burn Center at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, NY, and yes, she is one of the few bona fide fellowship-trained burn surgeons in the country.  In the short time that she has been here, she has made substantial positive changes in our approach to the management of the burn patient.  Some of these include:

  • Standardization of protocols and supplies to provide burn care in a more consistent fashion
  • Ongoing education programs for the nursing staff, pre-hospital providers, and referring institutions.  Basically, she will talk to anybody who wants to listen about burn care.
  • Establishment of a formal weekly meeting with all members of the burn team to discuss the progress of patients being currently treated as well as to implement new, innovative strategies for burn management.
  • Creation of an “always open” approach to burn care, that makes our burn clinic available to new referred patients five days a week.
  • The revision of our burn manual, which is the bible of burn care at the UVM Medical Center
  • And most importantly, a new and fresh approach to burn care that focuses on the enthusiastic participation of a multidisciplinary team of committed providers.

It hasn’t been a long time since these changes have come about, but I am sure that the UVM Medical Center will soon see shorter stays, more efficient care, and more satisfied patients.

What can YOU do to prevent burns?

Prevention is truly the most effective approach to reducing the number of burn injuries and it begins in your home, your yard, your vehicle, and your workplace.  Last year, we presented a number of prevention tactics and they still apply.

  • Turn your water heater to 120°
  • Protect your home with smoke detectors
  • Exercise care in lighting pilot lights
  • Avoid starting fires with gasoline
  • Emphasize kitchen and fireplace safety

This year, we would like to add a few reminders to the list based on our experience over the past year.  Recently, we have seen a few patients who have successfully escaped burning structures and have gone back into the fire to retrieve “valuables”.  Our advice:  there is nothing so valuable as your health!  Under no circumstance should you re-enter a burning house.  Leave that to the professional firefighters.

Here is another one:  several of our patients over the past year have experienced grease fires in overheated frying pans.  The initial urge (and I would probably be guilty of this also) is to throw water into the pan to extinguish the fire.  Nothing could be worse! When the water hits the fire, the hot grease will literally explode and splash all over.  If you happen to be in the way, the burning grease will undoubtedly cause a third degree burn.

And here’s one more piece of advice – always supervise children who might have access to containers holding hot liquids.  In our experience, the most common culprit is “Oodles of Noodles.” And the most common scenario?  Reaching up, grabbing the container, and spilling the contents over the child’s face and chest.  Fortunately, in kids, these burns usually heal fine, but not without a lot of visits to the clinic for dressing changes.

OK, everyone – our challenge is to work together so that, next year, when Burn Awareness Week comes around again, we can loudly trumpet our success at reducing the numbers of burn injuries that are reported in Vermont and the U.S.  Like for vintage wine, that would make for a very good year.

John B. Fortune, MD, FACS is a trauma and critical care surgeon at the UVM Medical Center.  He is also a Professor of Surgery at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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