BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When it opened its doors forty years ago, the Baton Rouge General's Regional Burn Center was just one of 14 nationwide. Today, it still stands as one of the best.
"Most of these patients have accidents. They were going about their normal activities of life when something tragic happened," said burn surgeon and BR General's Chief of Surgery Dr. Jeffrey Littleton.
As an injury, burns can be particularly tricky to heal.
A burn damages the body's largest , and often overlooked, organ: the skin. The skin is made up of three layers. Each layer is the body's first and best defense against disease and illness, also helping to regulate body temperature.
Burns are measured in degrees. Most everyone has experienced a first degree burn in the form of a sun burn, which only affect the top layer called the epidermis. A second degree burn goes through the top layer and also damages the second layer called the dermis. A third degree burn goes through the epidermis and the dermis and damages all the way down to the fat tissue or even muscle below the skin. There is also a fourth degree burn which is extremely severe, damaging the muscle tissue.
The more severe the burn, the more difficult it is to heal. Surgeons often have to remove the damaged skin, and replace it with a skin graft. Burns can also cause a great deal of scarring.
Significant damage to the skin also leaves patients incredibly venerable to infection. In the burn unit, certain steps are made to protect patients from potential infections including the use antibacterial ointment, as well as a sterile treatment wing in the center.
Although each member of the staff specializes in burn care and treatment, it can be a trying recovery process.
"It can be a prolonged and protracted treatment and recovery process. It's very important that we treat these patients with physical and occupational therapy as well as psycho-social support as well," said Littleton.
That's why the Regional Burn Center focuses on treating patients both physically and emotionally.
"We have to make sure the patient realizes they're still a person, they're still a human being with feelings and those things have to be taken into account and we have to support them through the recovery."
Each recovery is celebrated by the staff, who often keep up with patients years after treatment.
The Burn Center treats about 3,000 patients each year, both pediatric and adult.