Surviving burns and treatment - burn victims don't have to live with scars for life

A massive fire tore through a factory on South Coast Road, Durban south, on Friday morning. Picture Credit: Jackie Clausen
A massive fire tore through a factory on South Coast Road, Durban south, on Friday morning. Picture Credit: Jackie Clausen

Nothing is more tragic than being a burn victim.

In South Africa, we hear horrific stories on a daily basis about shack fires, often accompanied by loss of life.

Those who survive this tragedy can be subjected to a lifetime of scars and disfigurement, and because we live in a society where being different is often ridiculed, survivors can often be subjected to a lot of finger-pointing, stares and sometimes painful comments about their looks.

Dr Palesa Lesole walked us through what is currently available for burn victims.

Is it possible to restore their looks? Does a burn victim have to live with the scars for the rest of their lives?

"Absolutely not!" was Lesole's unequivocal answer.

"There are ways to get rid of scarring as a result of burns to the skin, but it all depends on the intensity of the damage done to the skin, meaning the degree of burns the victim suffered."

According to Lesole, third and fourth degree burns are usually the most difficult to treat, and can result in deformities because of how the body tries to repair itself after the damage the burn caused.

Various kinds of scaring can result from burns, and Lesole says that these can involve deformities and contracture.

This is when the burn pulls on the edges of the skin and usually limits the victim's movement.

Another burn side effect can be keloid scars, which can be a thick cluster of scar tissue which grow over the burn wound.

Lesole says that there are surgical procedures that can be used to treat burn wounds.

1. Skin grafting

This is performed by removing a piece of healthy skin from another area of the burn victim's body and attaching it to the damaged area.

The new piece of healthy skin would then grow over the damaged skin to give the affected area a more appealing look that is less grotesque.

2. Skin flap surgery

This is a rather complex procedure which involves skin and all its underlying muscle, where fat and blood vessels are moved to the burn site.

3. Tissue expansion

This procedure involves increasing the amount of existing tissue in order to perform reconstruction surgery.

4. Dermabrasion

This procedure is done to improve the appearance of burn scars.

It involves the scraping off of the dead superficial skin layers of the damaged skin in order to try and aesthetically improve the appearance of the scar.

5. Surgery to remedy skin contracture

It involves decreasing the skin pull that is often the result of third or fourth degree burns, which can be debilitating and physically constraining.

Unfortunately, most of these procedures are costly, and with most families not being able to afford expensive medical care, this can leave a lot of burn victims in despair.

Lesole however advises families of burn victims to do their research about organisations that assist burn victims in South Africa.

Most of these organisations are able to step in and assist with medical advice and procedures, as well as provide them with support which involves counselling and home-based care.

Various types of burns

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