Burn Unit at Hamilton Health Sciences offers range of support to help patients on the road to recovery

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Chris “Beezer” Armstrong knows from experience that the road to recovery can be a long one for burn survivors. A former patient of Hamilton Health Sciences’ Burn Unit, Beezer was admitted after being electrocuted almost a decade ago while trimming a tree that was touching a hydro line. He suffered third-degree burns and extensive fractures and injuries including a punctured lung, broken pelvis, and many broken bones.

Today, he is an active senior who volunteers in the burn unit twice a week, giving hope and encouragement to other burn patients.

“I know how it feels to be a burn patient,” said Beezer. “I want to tell patients my story so they know that there is hope and they can get through it.”

Much of this hope is attributable to the extensive range of services and support offered by Hamilton Health Sciences’ Burns Program. With an extensive history as a highly specialized burn service for the region of south central and western Ontario, the Burn Unit at Hamilton General Hospital provides the full continuum of adult and pediatric burn care from initial emergency burn resuscitation to specialized Intensive Care Unit services, surgical, and outpatient care. It is also the second busiest burn unit among teaching hospitals in Ontario.

“Burn care demands attention to every organ system, as well as to the patient’s psychological and social status,” said Laura Farrelly, Clinical Manager of ICU East and South of the Neurosciences and Trauma Program at Hamilton Health Sciences. “Our goal is really to make sure patients have access to all the types of care they need so that hopefully, they will be able to recover and regain their level of comfort in the community.”

Over the course of the last 15 years, burn care has improved immensely and so have outcomes for burn victims. Today, even patients with burns to 80 per cent of their body surface frequently survive thanks to advancements in treatment, care and support for burn victims.

At Hamilton General, patients are managed by a multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals including plastic surgeons, registered nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, dietitians and support staff from the time of admission. An Outpatient Burn Clinic and a Scar Control Clinic are also available to burn victims to help them access support and important services including plastic surgery consultations and ongoing assessment.

Following discharge, the Burn Support Group is actively involved with patients and provides an important link to information, support and social activities. In addition to co-ordinating educational meetings, holiday parties for pediatric burn patients, a yearly fashion show, and other fundraising activities, the Burn Support Group also offers to “buddy” patients discharged from the unit with others in the community.

Pediatric outpatients receive support through the clinics as well as a school reintegration program. When a pediatric burn patient returns to school, the burn team provides educational sessions to the child’s class to discuss pressure garments, fire prevention and dressings. Pediatric patients may also attend Camp Bucko, a registered charity that provides children recovering from burn injuries a chance to bond and share their stories with other children who have had similar experiences. They will also likely meet Beezer at the camp since he is both an active fundraiser and volunteer for Camp Bucko.

“I get just as much out of volunteering as the patients get from hearing from me,” said Beezer. And he is anxious to do whatever he can to help patients of all ages regain their lives and their confidence following what he knows, is the most traumatic experience most of them will ever face.