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Treating Burn Victims From Critical Care Through Rehabilitation: Robert and Lisa’s Stories

“We get patients on the worst day of their lives, and it is our mission to make sure that by the time they are discharged, they’re as whole as they can possibly be.” That’s how Chris Turner, RN, Department Manager of the Bothin Burn Center at Dignity Health’s Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco describes the personalized approach the Center takes with its patients.

As the largest American Burn Association Verified Burn Center in Northern California, the Bothin Burn Center serves more than 500 burn victims each year, accepting patients not just from California, but throughout the West Coast.

The team provides critical care for these patients, who suffer some of the most traumatic injuries a person can live through. The center’s team includes an array of specialists — not just plastic surgeons and registered nurses, but also physical and occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, case managers, pharmacists and even art and play therapists. Every single team member is highly trained to meet the complex needs of burn patients, from critical care through rehabilitation. And Robert and Lisa’s stories show just how much of an impact this multidisciplinary team truly has.

Robert’s story: Getting a dancer back on his feet again

Robert Strawder loves to dance, and after recovering from his burn injury, he practically danced out of the Bothin Burn Center to the joy of his family and friends. He was burned in a house fire in December 2011 and taken to the Bothin Burn Center to recover.

It happened quickly. Robert had returned from his job counseling at-risk youth and gone to sleep, only to wake up at 4 a.m. His room was on fire, and so was he. Six weeks later, he woke up at the Bothin Burn Center with second- and third-degree burns over 70% of his body.

When describing the care delivered by the center staff, Robert said, “Everyone was phenomenal to me and my family.” He had a flood of people who came to support him, and the center staff made it easy for Robert’s friends and family to be there for him. According to Robert, the staff made each patient feel genuinely special. “At the time I was so angry and unhappy and nasty to everyone, which is just not me. But the staff had unconditional acceptance and told me not to worry about it,” he said.

Due to the extent of his injuries, he was having difficulty getting back on his feet. The therapists worked with him so he could stand and walk, but he just couldn’t make it out the door of his room. One night a nurse who was caring for him said, “You look like you like to dance. You are not only going to walk out of this room, you are going to dance again.” This encouragement gave Robert the push he needed. The next day, with the help of his physical therapist, he walked out of his room using a walker the staff had decorated just for him.

Robert is a courageous burn survivor, but he is not alone. When he attends the monthly Burn Support Group he is inspired by the courage of other survivors and by the courage of those currently healing.

Lisa’s story: Helping an executive regain use of her hands and get back to business

For a split second on a sunny Friday morning in downtown San Francisco, Lisa Nash was the unluckiest woman in the world. As she walked across the empty intersection of Kearny and Post streets, an underground electrical transformer exploded. It blew a manhole cover 30 feet into the air, buckled concrete and caught the marketing executive in a blast of superheated smoke and flame.

As Lisa picked herself up from the street, she opened her eyes and remembered thinking, “Thank God, I can still see.” A female bicycle messenger gingerly guided her to the curbside. A San Francisco Fire Department ambulance crew, driving nearby, heard the explosion and sped to the scene.

“I think I need to go to the hospital,” Lisa said, standing with her hair singed off, her face blackened and her right arm shattered.

Having received third-degree burns on her hands, face, back and ankles, she was taken to the Bothin Burn Center at Dignity Health Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. And just as suddenly, her luck changed again.

Lisa was delicately and quickly whisked up one-way Pine Street eight blocks to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in the Bay Area with a specialized burn unit. She was wheeled through the Emergency Department door at 9:06 a.m., five minutes after the blast. Doctors slipped her into a drug-induced coma and battled to save her. A little over two weeks later, she woke up to begin her marathon recovery. .

A team of Saint Francis surgeons performed five major surgeries on Lisa. She was burned over 40% of her body. Her burned skin was first replaced with high-tech materials made of collagen, which served as a foundation for the skin harvested from healthy parts of her body and grafted about two weeks after the injury. Then the long and painful process of restoring mobility began. The team of specialists at the Burn Center helped Lisa learn how to walk again and regain full mobility in her hands.

The specialized care that Robert and Lisa received is available to any Californian who needs it, including Medi-Cal patients who might otherwise not have access.