Burning to save lives

By By Natalie Hale

By Natalie Hale

Three burn unit nurses rushed to the bedside of a patient, rapidly surveying equipment and the patient’s health.

“Sorry about that,” said Lezli Matthews, the nurse manager of the U Hospital’s nationally recognized burn unit. “Whenever a patient’s equipment goes off, we need to make sure that everything associated with them is OK.”

Each year and every day, the U’s burn unit cares for these patients-most with serious wound care that requires constant monitoring.

The unit is staffed with a dedicated team of doctors, nurses, licensed nurse practitioners, certified nurse assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists and nutritionists who specialize in burn therapy

“This unit is different from all the other units in the hospital. We rehab out- patients, so we literally see them go through every step of the healing process,” said Jen Shealy, a sophomore in nursing science and health unit coordinator in the U’s burn unit.

Matthews credits the success of the unit to the dedicated staff and the work it performs together in close-knit interdisciplinary teams.

Matthews said most of the wounds found on children are scalds from hot bathtub water, kitchen-related burns or incidents with electric frying equipment.

“We have found that, in the majority of cases, the ailment is not just a burn- it’s a burn with a big story,” Matthews said. “Whether it be from abuse, neglect or as a result of a meth-lab explosion-there is always a story behind them.”

While 40 percent of patients are children, the burn unit sees a variety of cases. From newborns to geriatrics, the staff has to be versatile in order to treat each specific case.

The unit is entirely self-contained within the hospital. Patients with skin wounds and major burns are unable to regulate their body temperatures; to compensate, the unit is well heated and humidified.

The operating room within the unit sees more than 600 cases per year and, Matthews said, is staffed with the greatest doctors available, one of which, Jeff Saffle, director of the unit, won an educator-of-the-year award from the U.

The 12 rooms available in the unit are usually fully occupied, treating multiple kinds of skin ailments extending beyond burns.

Necrotizing fasciitis (an infection of flesh-eating bacteria), chemical-related wounds, electrical burns and other injuries resulting to skin loss are also cared for in the unit.

The staff of 98 treats thousands of patients per year within a 350-mile radius.

“This is the greatest unit to work in because patients near death come back. It is the best place in the whole world to work,” Matthews said.

Bobby Sakaki

Resident nurse Amy Katz instructs a couple on handling their child’s burns after leaving the burn unit.

Bobby Sakaki

Nurses and director Jeff Saffle from University Hospital’s nationally recognized burn unit discuss procedures for dealing with patients Friday.