Doctors, therapists give update on burn victims still at center

Justin Scurry has a message for those burned in the Imperial Sugar Co. explosion in February who are still recovering at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center and at Doctors Hospital.

"Nothing is going to stop you," said Mr. Scurry, 21, who spent 108 days there last year after he was badly burned in a truck accident. "They're going to know that the sky is the limit."

But there is still a long way home, doctors and therapists said during a news conference Tuesday. After the explosion at the refinery outside Savannah, 20 of the most severely burned patients were flown to the burn center. Five of those patients died from their massive burns, and three remain in critical condition at the burn center, with one in good condition, said Medical Director Fred Mullins. Two are in the inpatient Rehab Unit at Doctors and nine others have been discharged.

Those who remain in the burn center suffered burns over 40 to 90 percent of their bodies and it has been a slow process to get all of those burned areas covered, Dr. Mullins said. Biopsies from those patients are being grown in a lab in Boston into new skin.

About 65-70 percent of the areas have been covered on those patients at the burn center, he said. Many of them also suffered damage to the lungs and that can slow the recovery, Dr. Mullins said.

"It's a very slow process," he said, and it can increase the risk of death by 50 percent.

Karen Seckinger's son, Paul, is still on a ventilator in the burn center but regained consciousness about a week ago. He startled a nurse one night when he announced, "I'm hot," she said. He was also buoyed by a visit from his 9-year-old daughter, Morgan.

"That did him a lot of good and I know it did her a lot of good," Mrs. Seckinger said.

His co-worker and friend Justin Purnell has moved on to the inpatient rehab unit and is trying to get some dexterity back in his hands by doing things such as putting clothespins onto a rod, said his wife, Jenny.

Just being able to move to rehab was a significant event, she said.

"He's pretty determined to make everything work like it did before," she said.

For burn victims, just working with the newly grafted areas is important, said Rehab Unit Director Dean Beasley.

"When you're dealing with a burn patient, a lot of times they're literally learning how to exist in new skin," he said.

In addition to their physical issues, they might also be facing psychological hurdles, said neurologist Harry Hughes, the medical director of the unit. Many of those patients have no idea what happened to them or the extent of it until they reach the unit, he said.

"It all hits you like a ton of bricks," Dr. Hughes said. "It takes a strong person to get through that."

For Mr. Scurry, the hardest day was looking down at his legs in the rehab unit, the burned and damaged left leg and the right leg amputated above the knee.

"What's supposed to be my good leg is my bad leg and what's supposed to be my bad leg is my good leg," he said. "My prosthesis that I have, that's my good leg right now. It was hard to go through that."

There is the constant struggle with pain, with the slow progress.

For occupational therapist Sharon McRae, it is convincing patients that working with the pegboard or the clothespins will help restore them to the lives they want to lead.

"If fishing is their thing, we want to get that person back fishing again," she said.

In Mr. Scurry's case, he was in a boat fishing a few days after he got back out. But it is a long road of recovery that he is on.

"I'm still here," he said. "And I'm still walking. Every day I wake up, there's a different obstacle every day. And I cross that bridge every day."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

BLOOD DRIVES

- Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, 1420 Monte Sano Ave.

- Monday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., First Baptist Church, 3500 Walton Way

- April 25, 11 a.m., to 2 p.m., T-Bonz Steakhouse, 2856 Washington Road

Shepeard Community Blood Center will conduct two drives on April 29 and 30 in Port Wentworth near Savannah, where the plant is located.