While compassion is a key trait for the Burn Center team, resilience is critical for burn survivors.
"You have to encourage them to be strong. That road to recovery can really be arduous," said Georgia Franklin, BSN, RN, RN II. She's been a part of the Burn Center for 21 years. Franklin said a burn injury experienced as a child piqued her interest as a student nurse assistant during her first year at ACH. She's an example of how some burn survivors develop resilience by supporting each other.
Burn Center team members provide encouragement during every stage of the healing process, whether the patient is having bandages changed, doing rehabilitation exercises or receiving follow-up care.
Because burns can be a lifetime injury, the Arkansas Children's Burn Center offers ongoing social and emotional support for survivors. Over 30 years ago, Burn Center team members began Camp Sunshine, a 4-day camp for burn survivors ages 4-17. Franklin said for pediatric patients, "going back to school and getting reintroduced into their communities, it was helpful to have some extra support and resources. Those children really needed to be with other children who had been burned and had similar injuries."
The Arkansas Professional Firefighters Association funds the annual event, which Shannon Smith, BSN, RN, Burn Outreach and Aftercare Program Manager, describes as “just a joyous time.” Smith said the event is a reprieve because “[survivors] have to live in a society that can be bullying towards their appearance.” Four days of swimming, field trips and camp activities with others who have had shared experiences leads to lifelong friendships and strong mentoring relationships.
“It’s my safe place,” one Camp Sunshine participant said.
Arkansas Children’s also hosts a young adult retreat for burn survivors ages 17-25 and adult retreats and recurring dinners for survivors. Some survivors opt to be formally trained as mentors through the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. The national nonprofit provides training through its Survivors Offering in Assistance in Recovery (SOAR) program.
Those programs for patients of all ages benefit survivors and Burn Center team members. Offering compassion to survivors every day is incredibly taxing for Burn team members. Smith said attending the retreats is a way "to get that compassion refueled." She said it's reenergizing "seeing those burn survivors - the ones that you took care of that were so sick and not able to take care of themselves - seeing them function normally and laughing and transitioning from the burn victim to the burn survivor."
Over the past 70 years, the Arkansas Children’s Burn Center has been committed to constant improvement, providing exceptional care during every stage of a burn survivor’s recovery and strengthening the cycle of compassion and resilience.
Every burn injury is unique and challenging, but some cases are more challenging than others. Children, for example, require treatments appropriate for their developing bodies. ACH Occupational Therapist Mandy Yelvington, MS, OTR/L, BCPR, BT-C, said, "The complicating factor with burn is - that skin that's been burned never stretches like skin that hasn't been, so when [children] hit their growth spurts, their skin doesn't grow with them. They may, for the rest of their life, need reconstructive surgery."
Yelvington said injuries caused by house fires often add to the challenge of multiple patients being admitted simultaneously. In those situations, Burn Center team members provide individualized care to each patient while addressing the emotional needs of family members concerned about each other.
In June 2021, both those challenges presented themselves when three young siblings were transported from a hospital in Tennessee to ACH after being burned in a house fire. MaryLou Crowder, eight years old at the time and the oldest of the three, had burns on over 90% of her body. Her two younger brothers, Jordan Holliman and Cortez Jones, were burned over 70% of their bodies.
Severe injuries require increased coordination between multiple units in the hospital. Team members in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) treated the siblings’ most urgent medical needs – breathing, for example. Endotracheal tubes were inserted, which allowed them to breathe. Alongside the PICU staff, nurses and Burn Center team members added their specialized expertise, assessing the wounds and making treatment plans for the day when the three would be transferred to the inpatient Burn Unit.
Every child required skin grafts because so much of their body had been burned. Grafted skin is delicate. Even lying in bed can add too much pressure to the wound and disrupt healing. The team created specialized supports made of gauze and PVC tubing, which allowed the children to be suspended with very little pressure on the wounds while allowing airflow to keep the skin dry.
Turning the children from their backs to their stomachs required the coordinated efforts of over half a dozen staff members. Every team member involved in treating the siblings said every patient receives the same high level of care, but the teamwork involved with those three children was extraordinary. Georgia Franklin, BSN, RN, RN II, provided wound care and was one of the team leaders during their care. "So many different disciplines came together to help with their care and support them," she said. "We worked with PICU, child life [specialists], OT, PT, respiratory - everyone came together to make sure [the children] would have a good outcome."
Charette Jones, the siblings’ aunt and legal guardian, said, “You couldn’t ask for a better team.”
When asked if she had a favorite nurse or doctor, MaryLou said, "All of them." She recalls one of the highlights of her recovery being "When I could finally Hot Cheetos."
Nearly 18 months after being admitted, MaryLou has relearned how to walk and enjoys playing outside with her brothers, cousins and dog. She wears compression garments because her skin is still healing, and all three still visit the staff in the ACH Burn Unit when they come to the hospital for follow-up care.