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Healing and hope

Sixteen-year-old Trent Muse is quiet and composed on a couch in his Keene, Texas, living room on this particular autumn evening. It doesn’t jump out immediately upon first glance, but a closer look at his legs reveals evidence of an accident three years earlier that put the high school junior in Parkland’s burn intensive care unit for nearly two weeks.

Joined by his parents, Trent begins to tell a story of strength – a narrative that starts with skin graft surgeries and ends with a message of prevention so others won’t have to experience his pain.

It happened so fast

It was October 2009. Trent, 13 at the time, and his 15-year-old brother, Tyler, were at home alone. Tyler put vegetable oil and a frozen eggroll into a saucepan, turned the stove on high heat and left the kitchen to take a phone call in another room. What happened next is difficult for the brothers to recall.

“When you see a fire you think of water to put it out. I’m guessing this is what I thought, but everything is just a blur now. It happened so fast,” says Trent.

He and his family believe he filled a pitcher he’d set out on the counter for his soccer game and tossed the water onto the flames towering out of the saucepan, causing the oil in it to explode. The scalding oil caused burns – two-thirds of which were third-degree burns – on Trent’s arm, a small spot on his back and on his legs and feet. He was transported by air ambulance to Parkland and spent 13 days in the hospital’s Burn Center, where he underwent the painful removal of dead skin through a process called debridement, skin graft surgeries and wound dressings. A two-month rehabilitation process followed.

Trent attended physical therapy several times a week for two months and wore compression garments 23 hours a day for one year. His mother, Tammy, remembers a road to recovery that would have been tough for any child to endure. “I was worried about his range of motion because he was in so much pain. He wore compression garments for about a year, and physical therapy lasted about two months. We also had to try to keep him out of the sun.” Even bathing was difficult for Trent, she says. He took lukewarm sponge baths for months.

Knowledge, skill and care

Trent’s story may be unique, but his scald burn injuries are not. Scalds comprise nearly 45 percent of all burns suffered by children aged 0 to 16 who are treated at Parkland’s Burn Center. That’s why Parkland recently became involved in an ongoing national scald prevention campaign funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Staff of the Parkland Burn Center was invited to participate in the national pilot program that aims to eliminate scald burns through prevention education.

Scald burns are often caused by “hot spots” – surges in temperature – in bath water, and hot food, beverages, oil and grease.

Scald injuries are most common in children, but can happen to anyone. Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable because their skin is very thin, explains Sue Vanek, Burn Program Manager at Parkland.

“If I burn myself with coffee, it might just be red. If it blisters, it’s a second-degree burn. But a child’s or an elderly person’s skin is much thinner so if a product of the same temperature falls on them their burn will be full thickness, or third-degree,” says Vanek.

Burn unit nurse Clare Card, RN, says deeper burn injuries such as second- and third-degree burns are at risk for infection, scarring, severe pain and prolonged healing. Regardless of how scald injuries occur, Card says proper treatment is essential.

Trent Muse and his family say Parkland’s Burn Center staff was instrumental in the ongoing treatment of his wounds, and the care he received extended beyond his hospital stay. Burn Unit staff even went to Trent’s school to speak to his classmates and answer their questions about his accident as part of its back-to-school program created to help children and teens re-enter school after a burn injury.

“The nurses and the staff at Parkland were pros,” his father, Tony, says. “You could tell they really knew how to deal with kids.”

Trent’s message to other children goes hand-in-hand with the goal of both the Burn Unit and the national scald burn campaign to decrease incidences of scald burn injuries through education and prevention.

“If you’re cooking at home, make sure you have supervision,” says Trent. “Make sure you have an adult with you in case something happens. That way it can be prevented or dealt with in a better way. ”

By Cortney Strube


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