Chief burn surgeon addresses CFBA

The tri-state area is blessed with first-class, top-notch medical care facilities and members of the Chadds Ford Business Association learned that one of those facilities is the Nathan Speare Regional Burn Treatment Center, part of the Crozer Chester Medical Center.

They also got a glimpse of the history of the center as well as the history of burn treatment from Dr. Linwood Haith, the chief of burn surgery. Haith addressed the CFBA members during the group’s monthly luncheon, this month hosted by Crozer Brinton Lake in Concord Township. Ironically, it came during Burn Awareness Week.

“We wouldn’t have a burn center without businesses,” he said during his opening remarks. “You have to have collaboration between business and medicine to have an outstanding center.” He later cited major businesses and corporations in the Philadelphia and Chester area for helping to establish Crozer as such a center.

The area itself was a factor because of transportation, the river, the airport a railhead and a major highway, as well as the heavy industry. But it was the businesses, such as Sun Oil, Smith-Kline, Allied Chemical and many other local businesses that helped fund the development of Crozer’s burn and trauma center.

“Every year, about a half-million people are badly burnt,” Haith said. “Of that number, about 30,000 or 40,000, will need care in a hospital such as ours.”

Interest in treating burns became heightened following WWII in the aftermath of the United States dropping nuclear weapons on Japan. But there were no dedicated facilities for burn treatment at the time. And it took almost three decades to get one.

“What put our burn center on the map?” Haith asked rhetorically. Crozer’s center started in 1973 but didn’t become well-known until the 1975 Gulf Oil refinery fire in South Philadelphia that killed eight firefighters. Survivors were treated at Crozer.

Crozer’s burn center became a referral for Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, all of Delaware and Northern Maryland, Haith said. Crozer’s burn center saw about 1,300 patients during a three-year period. About 25 percent of the patients are flown in by helicopter, Haith said.

While major incidents, such as the refinery or other industrial fires, most domestic burns are from flame sources such as gasoline and alcohol. But about a third are from scalds in the kitchen or bathroom. “But prevention might make a dent in that,” he said.

He noted that playgrounds no longer have blacktop surfaces. Haith said that’s because it was not uncommon for children to burn their feet playing on blacktop in the summer because the asphalt would get so hot.

“Now, with a good understanding of prevention, we don’t really see that with kids, anymore.”

How to treat those burns, such as scalds and sunburns at home? Apply cool water, he said, not ice, but cool. “After that, there are topicals that can be utilized.” Haith recommends aloe because the natural ingredient in aloe is an aspirin-like substance that’s a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Then apply a clean, dry dressing.

Professional treatment has improved over the years as doctors learned more and technology developed. Early on, doctors would apply a heavy, white cream that had to be applied and removed every day. Newer technology has brought new materials.

Some of those new materials are impregnated with antibiotics and some can be left on for a week or longer, up to 10 days, no longer needing to apply and remove daily as before.

“By the time you take it off, it’s almost healed,” Haith said. “Can you imagine the value to a little kid with a scald having a dressing you don’t have to take off every day?”

There are skin grafts, as well, but even they are being replaced by some new technology using cloned cells and stem cell therapies.

“We know there are certain products that encourage and enhance stem cell maturation,” he said.

Other products provide an artificial dermis, one of the layers of skin, that advances healing and can help reduce scarring, as does laser treatment.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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