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Prompt Medical Attention for Burns Helps Healing

On a typical Saturday morning, Catherine Del Toro’s husband would have cooked breakfast, but on this particular Saturday she wanted to let her sweetie sleep in.

Working quietly in the kitchen, she heated up some oil in a frying pan. When she tried to crack an egg on the edge of the pan, it flipped over, spilling hot oil all over her right hand and splattering her chest.

Unsure what to do, Ms. Del Toro (pictured above) ran cool water on the burn and had her husband drive her to the nearest emergency room, where the injury was wrapped with gauze. When she returned the next day to have the bandage changed, the doctor took one look and suggested she go to the Burn Center at South Miami Hospital [1].

“I had no idea how bad it was. My hand looked like it came out of a horror movie,” said Ms. Del Toro, who was relieved she could be treated at a hospital she trusts. “I love South Miami Hospital. I’ve gone there for mammograms for years. I should have gone there directly.”

South Miami Hospital’s Burn Center offers comprehensive care to patients age 18 and older with burns on less than 25 percent of their body. The Center’s multidisciplinary approach includes wound care by specially trained nurses, the use of grafting and skin substitutes, reconstructive surgery, physical and occupational therapy, and nutrition and social services.

In what initially seemed like a simple kitchen mishap, Ms. Del Toro sustained second- and third-degree burns that could have permanently limited the use of her hand. Instead, she has fully recovered.

A big key to her success was getting the right treatment at the right time, said Ricardo Castrellon, M.D. [2], medical director of the Burn Center. “It put us ahead of the game,” he said.

Burns should be evaluated as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection, promote healing, minimize scarring and preserve functionality, said Dr. Castrellon, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “Never underestimate the seriousness of burns,” he said. “Without prompt evaluation, things that could be treated easily can end up becoming surgical situations.”

To promote healing, Dr. Castrellon cleaned and covered Ms. Del Toro’s wounds with a biosynthetic tissue graft derived from the skin of a pig. The material protected the damaged area and maintained the moist environment vital to the renewal of her own skin. Antibiotic ointment and dressings were reapplied weekly by Cristina Umbac, R.N., with whom Ms. Del Toro developed a special relationship.

To maintain flexibility in her hand, Ms. Del Toro also did occupational therapy at the Burn Center.

“Every single one of the individuals there is awesome,” she said. “As a team, they are magnificent. They make miracles happen.”

Regaining the use of her hand was critical for Ms. Del Toro, 60, a receptionist and phone operator. In the early stages of her treatment, she had to use her left hand to write and awkwardly accomplish other tasks. Her husband of 28 years, Jorge Calzadilla, tended to her with devotion, changing her bandages daily. As they faithfully followed the Burn Center’s instructions, Ms. Del Toro kept her fingers moving as much as the injury allowed and tried not to think about the chance of permanent damage.

“I wouldn’t allow my mind to go to the ‘scary place,’ ” she said. “I need my hand. I needed my livelihood.”

Considering all she went through over several months of treatment, it’s not surprising she now likes to brag. “I can move my fingers. I can stretch them and hold them out. There is no stiffness or anything,” she said.

Still, you won’t find her cooking breakfast — or anything else — any time soon. “My husband and son said, ‘No more cooking for you.’ It’s a family joke,” she said.

“I’m allowed in the kitchen to get things out of the refrigerator or make a sandwich, but that’s it. I’m not allowed near the stove.”