By Booker T. King, M.D.
Burns are particularly difficult to treat. Our skin is our largest organ, and it has an equally large job to do. It keeps fluids inside and protects us from infection. When burns break down that barrier, which can happen in a matter of seconds, it opens patients up to the possibility of serious and life-threatening infection.
For doctors treating burn victims, the first challenge is to save the patient’s life by repairing the burned area — this can take anywhere from months to more than a year. The second challenge is to help the patient heal, physically and mentally, to close to the point they were before the burn. This can take a lifetime.
For more than 40 years, the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill has been providing that kind of immediate and long-term care to burn patients, saving hundreds of lives and restoring thousands, both children and adults, to health and productivity. And since the Burn Center first opened in 1981, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have offered financial support to help ensure it remains focused on providing the best, most supportive burn care possible.
Through the support of electric co-ops, we’re able to meet the challenges that come with being one of the top five busiest burn centers in the country. Our patients include lineworkers who have been injured on the job, children who have been burned by household hazards, and others who have experienced major, life-changing trauma that can take years to recover from.
One such patient who came to the center in early 2020 was the victim of a random assault that left her with burns over 80% of her body. She underwent close to 20 operations and difficult physical therapy before being able to return home after 11 months in the hospital. She’s now an advocate for burn patients, joining in the efforts of our team of physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychiatrists, case managers and social workers to ensure that when patients leave the Burn Center, they have all the support possible.
On the research side, the Burn Center is able to leverage its position as one of the largest and most comprehensive burn centers in the world to the benefit of others in our field. Through electric co-op donations, we were able to fund a research fellow dedicated to clinical research, who is tasked with analyzing vast amounts of data from the Burn Center to better understand effective treatments in burn care.
In this way, we are advancing burn care here in North Carolina as well as for others in clinics around the world. Your electric cooperative, as one of the 26 electric co-ops across the state, is a vital partner in the development, growth and support of that work.
Booker T. King, M.D., is director of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill.
This story was originally published in the September 2022 issue of Carolina Country.