HealthCheck

New techniques at UTMB saving burn patients

Monday, June 03, 2013

Burns and smoke inhalation injuries, like those suffered by Houston firefighters, are some of the most difficult injuries to survive. UTMB treats some 400 burns a year and survival rates are improving.

Tiny steps on tiny bandaged legs. It's a victory since the fire two weeks ago that burned five-year-old Riley Westmoreland over a third of her little body. Her eight-year-old brother, Brandon, was burned over 40 percent of his body. Their father was severely burned, too, when a gas can exploded at their Oklahoma home.

Amy Westmoreland, who is taking care of her entire family, hurts for the families of the Houston firefighters who were killed or injured during a five-alarm fire that erupted at a southwest Houston hotel on Friday.

"I know the road they're on, and honestly, I know that I could have been the family planning the funerals. I know that. It's devastating," she said.

But new techniques are saving burn patients.

"What kills you after the first 24 or 48 hours is that your body goes like an athlete on a treadmill non-stop," said Dr. Carlos Jimenez with the UTMB Blocker Burn Unit.

At UTMB's Blocker Burn Unit, they're better now at handling the complications that kill burn patients. They're better at skin grafts, too. Riley's grafts came from her scalp. When her hair grows back it will leave no scar.

Once severely burned patients get to the hospitals, many survive -- even those burned up to 99 percent of their body. They also are helped with psychological assistance so that when they leave the hospital they can adjust to their new and different life.

Libin Chen, who suffered burns over 99 percent of his body, has a message for the injured Houston firefighters.

"I have been through the most horrible thing in my life. But there will be tomorrow, and tomorrow will be better," Chen said.

Riley will leave the hospital today. And she has hope.

"She's going to be back to 100 percent of what she was doing before. With the addition of a few scars on her legs," Dr. Jimenez said.

Amy says faith will get her children and husband through the additional surgeries and therapy they face.

"It's gotten me through this far, and it's going to keep getting us through more," she said.

Find Christi on Facebook at ABC13-Christi Myers or on Twitter at @ChristiMyers13

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