New method aids burn victim
New technology at Jackson's Burn Unit helped save the life of a young man badly burned in a boat explosion.
BY STEPHANIE GENUARDI
Eight months ago, Steven Avila, a young police officer in training, was badly burned when the boat he was working on exploded.
He underwent seven operations and was hospitalized in the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center for two months.
Thursday, he returned to the hospital to help his doctor publicize the technology used to treat severely burned patients like Avila -- an internal warming method that circulates warm water through patients' veins to prevent infection and bleeding.
JMH says it was the first hospital in the world to use the technology, called Thermogard, during surgery on burned patients in 2006.
``Thank God I'm alive,'' said a nervous Avila, who sustained second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body, including extensive burns on his arms and legs.
He remembers vividly when, early in the recovery process, he wasn't able to get out of bed or brush his teeth.
He wore a blue striped, long-sleeved, button-down shirt. Burn scars could be seen on both hands.
Dr. Carl I. Schulman, associate director of the Burn Center, explained the technology that saved Avila's life.
Because the skin is so damaged, a burn victim's body cannot retain heat, making the patient susceptible to hypothermia, which can cause infection and increase bleeding.
Because of the skin damage, doctors cannot warm the patient by traditional external methods, such as blankets. They needed a way to heat the patient internally.
Previously, in order to keep the patient warm, the doctors kept the operating room at 90 to 100 degrees. Often, they would be forced to stop surgery because the patient became too cold, Schulman said.
A Jackson neurosurgeon had developed a catheter to keep patients cool during brain surgery.
``We turned the technology on its head,'' Schulman said.
The hospital created a thick catheter with numerous balloons that circulate warm water from the Thermogard machine, which contains a water heating mechanism.
The catheter is threaded through the patient's largest vein and warms the blood. ``It's quite simple, but quite elegant,'' said Schulman. ``It's allowing us to do something we previously couldn't do. It's making conditions more comfortable for everyone,'' he added.
Schulman said it has been used ``dozens of times since 2006'' and ``has really changed the way we operate.'' But he stressed that the technology is ``reserved for times when it's really needed,'' when a significant portion of the patient's skin surface has been burned, as was the case with Avila.
Avila continues to undergo physical therapy. He is seeing a personal trainer to boost his endurance.
``My ultimate goal is to get back to work,'' said Avila, who had just graduated from the police academy when the accident occurred. ``I can't wait.''