Texas hospital goes extra mile to help young burn survivors adjust at school

Young children who have suffered severe burn injuries face challenges beyond the clinical and physical after hospital discharge — including going back to school and facing their classmates' curiosity.

Parkland Memorial Hospital's Regional Burn Center in Dallas is going the extra distance to help its youngest and most vulnerable burn patients overcome these hurdles with a program to ease their transition back to school.

"[Severe burn] injuries sometimes require continued operations, these patients, the children, require long-term rehabilitation, they have physical challenges such as limited mobility and, of course, they have visible scarring, which changes how you interact with the public and how the public interacts with you," said Stephanie Campbell, RN, program manager for the burn center. "So that's really where the idea of helping kids get back to school with these injuries came from."

The program isn't new — it was started about a decade ago — but it has had a singularly positive effect on young burn victims and their families, who are anxious about the children getting back to their regular routines.

The program has three components: social skills training for the children and their parents, focusing on how to respond to questions from strangers or staring; the hospital communicating with the school and giving insight on the child's recovery; and a 20- to 30-minute presentation in the child's classroom.

Meagan Young, the burn center's child life specialist, works closely with children who are ready to re-enter school and travels with them to school to give the presentation, which addresses common questions the child's classmates may have: Where have you been? What happened?

"We talk about how great our skin is and what our skin's job is. And then we talk about different types of burns, and then we talk about how the kid has been in the hospital and how they had a bad burn," said Ms. Young. "And then we talk about how brave and strong they were while they were in the hospital, and once we do that, we hit on how they can be a good friend [to the injured child]."

During the presentation, Ms. Young also touches on how the injured child might look different now. The child can choose to participate in some or all of the presentation, and many jump at the chance to tell their story. In some cases, they show off their scars. Each presentation is customized to accommodate for how involved the child and parents want to be.

Severe burn injuries are fairly rare, Ms. Campbell said, so only around five to 10 patients a year need the program.

But for the small percentage of parents and kids that the program touches, the overwhelming reaction is gratitude, said Ms. Young.

"I always see the kids in clinic, and I'm always like, 'Well you're back at school; how was it?' and the kids are always like 'It's so great, I really appreciate it,'" she said.

"And a lot of the parents and families have been super thankful and grateful for us answering these questions and helping them and their child get back into their normal routine," she added.

The program lets caregivers keep up with children after they've left the center, and it's rewarding and motivating for them to see a child get back to their life after seeing them be so critically ill, said Ms. Campbell.

"It's one of the more rewarding aspects of our job," she said.

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