Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford
Many burn scars originate when the victims are children. According to a seventeen-year study, 120,000 children in the United States are seriously burned every year. That equals 300 children a day or one child every five minutes.
The most vulnerable demographic are children under the age of six. Parents often miscalculate what young children can reach. In addition, children develop thicker skin as they age. Children under six have thinner skin than older children or adults, so their skin burns quicker. As such, they are more easily burned, and their burns tend to be more serious.
Children with burn scars are often ridiculed or alienated by their peers. Though people become more polite as they age, burned adults still face discrimination because of their scars.
Several camps try to improve the lives of burn victims by giving them a place to hang out and be themselves without worrying about the ridicule of their peers. Camp I-Thonka-Chi lives up to its Choctaw name, which means “place that makes one fearless.” Founded by a physical therapy manager in 1992, Camp I-Thonka-Chi is a free week-long sleepover camp for burn victims between the ages of six and eighteen.
Similarly, Camp Gung-Ho is a one-day camp for six- to sixteen-year-old burn survivors in the Los Angeles area. Developed by Children’s Burn Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides support services and treatments for burned children, Camp Gung-Ho organizes Saturday outings throughout the year.
Both camps help burn victims to forget their scars and connect with others who have had similar experiences. Children are able to leave these camps with new friends and newfound confidence.
Most of these children can expect to have scars for the rest of their lives, but medical advancements of the past decade are bringing us closer to being able to erase burn scars. Historically, the most common treatment for burn scars has been skin grafts. First used in 3000 BC, skin grafts replace damaged skin with healthy skin from a different part of the body, a pig, or a cadaver. More recently, scientists have developed tissue-engineered skin. While successful at reducing scarring and improving function and health of affected area, skin grafting leaves the skin distorted and red.
In the past few years, doctors have begun using lasers to treat burn scars. The scarred skin is penetrated by dozens of tiny holes. This stimulates the collagen, removes part of the scar, and encourages healthy skin to grow. Although not a miracle cure, this treatment has given burn victims new hope.
The best treatment for any type of scar is prevention. Not every accident can be avoided, but parents can take steps to protect their children from getting burned. Look at the room from a child's perspective and consider what they can reach, grab, or open. The majority of accidents happen in the kitchen, so be especially careful when in the kitchen with a child. You may also wish to get a child gate to prevent children from entering dangerous areas of the house.
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Photo: Chris Darling