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Healing Deep Wounds

EIRMC’s Burn & Reconstructive Center

Published in the May 2023 Issue Published online: May 11, 2023 Health & Wellness
Viewed 1335 time(s)



By Jessica Poe 

William DeJong of Jerome moved cows in a hurry. He’d maneuvered like this for 20 years as a dairy farmer and a self-proclaimed “doer.” He got things done… until his life suddenly came undone.

Just as a large full feed truck backed up, William tripped, hit the bumper and fell. The nearly 30-ton truck ran over him, crushing his femurs and tearing the skin from his legs. Employees immediately began yelling at the driver, who quickly pulled the truck forward to get out of the way, running over William yet again.

After a crew member called 911, an emergency transport helicopter arrived on the farm. Then, during the hour-long flight to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC), William passed out from loss of blood and slipped into a coma.

EIRMC serves as the region’s leader in emergency, wound care and trauma services.  It’s also home to the only Burn Center in Idaho, which also serves regions of Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana.

Since William lost most of the skin on both legs and needed multiple skin grafts and intense wound care, he became a patient in EIRMC’S Burn ICU. Like many patients who arrive at this burn center, William’s fight for survival was far from over. After being stabilized and intubated by emergency teams, William faced a complex and painful recovery process endangered by life-threatening risks of infection. 

“These are probably the sickest patients I’ve ever seen in my life…but they’re in the right place,” said Emily Allred, a nurse of 20 years and Director of Wound & Burn Services at EIRMC. “As the only burn center in Idaho, we take it our responsibility to provide the highest quality care possible. Like our patients, we do the hard stuff. We recognize that burn and wound care is not about the sprint, it’s about a marathon, and we come together to provide a range of services to make that marathon possible.”

The Burn & Reconstructive Center at EIRMC includes six dedicated intensive care beds; Idaho’s only dedicated burn OR; a burn trauma room in the ER;  Idaho’s only hyperbaric chambers for ventilated patients and an outpatient clinic for less severe wound and burn injuries. Last year, they treated over 115 critically injured patients in the Burn ICU and managed 1100 visits to the outpatient burn clinic.

Not all burn center patients have suffered fire burns. The expert team also treats crush injuries like William’s as well as diabetic wounds, frostbite, degloving injuries, a variety of harsh skin conditions, road rash and chemical, electrical, inhalation and thermal burns.

“Our burn center is incredibly unique because we serve a large region, and we provide extremely high-quality care for a variety of circumstances and severities. Our patients arrive in diverse states of trauma, and so we customize each patient’s treatment plan for them,” Allred said. “I love that we do big city medicine in a small town.”

For William, his 80 consecutive days at EIRMC’s Burn Center began with 36 hyperbaric procedures and 14 trips to the Burn OR for debridement (cleaning dead tissue) in preparation for skin grafts. Then, before he woke from his coma, surgeons amputated his left leg below the knee.  He also received more than 104 units of blood during his hospital stay, replacing his entire blood volume 20 times over.

“I was in utter shock and disbelief at how complex his care was,” his wife Renee said. “ The doctors and nurses worked tirelessly. They knew what they were doing and fought for him. I trusted them. In fact, I’ve never bonded to people so quickly. The nurses and doctors were my lifeline. When I cried, they gave compassion and sat with me.”

Triumph rising from ashes: Caring for the whole patient

EIRMC’s Burn Center Medical Director, Dr. Tait Olaveson, gained firsthand experience with the importance of physical, emotional and psychological support in regard to burn patients.

As an undergraduate student interested in science and medicine, Dr. Olaveson received a chemical burn to his extremities and face. Due to his injuries, he sought care at EIRMC. The experience impacted the trajectory of his life, as he later became a trauma surgeon specializing in burn care at that very hospital. Then, just five years ago, a loved one endured a significant burn. These personal experiences, added to his professional training, have developed a profound perspective and level of compassion for his patients.

“When our patients arrive, it’s probably because of the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to them,” Dr. Olaveson said. “All burns are significant, regardless of how large they are. A burn impacts all aspects of life–work, school, and social interactions. For many patients, even after physical healing begins, it takes 3 to 5 years before they feel like they’re OK. This kind of healing is not a one-time surgery but a process.”

To support that process, EIRMC’s Burn Center enlists a team of compassionate, specialized healthcare providers. Burn surgeons, reconstructive and plastic surgeons, specially trained RNs, respiratory therapists, occupational and physical therapists and dieticians who specialize in burn care collaborate to provide the best possible outcomes and quality of life for their patients. Plus, medical teams often connect patients and families with other burns survivors and psychiatric and psychological services.

When you need burn care, you want the best

“Burn and wound care has come a long way, and EIRMC is on the advanced side of care. Not every wound center has service lines specifically trained to help burn patients. Plus, we offer new therapies that help patients avoid more traumatic and outdated treatments,” Dr. Olaveson said. “I’d drive hours and hours to get this quality of care.”

Examples of newer, advanced treatment that EIRMC’s Burn Center offers include spray skin techniques where physicians harvest a small sample of a patient’s own skin cells and then spray them onto a second-degree burn site, helping regenerate a new outer skin layer. Also, EIRMC’s burn experts utilize skin grafting procedures and organ donations (remember that skin is the body’s largest organ) to decrease inflammation and scarring and provide better healing and cosmetic results.

Plus, with Idaho’s only dedicated burn operating room available 24 hours a day, patients can receive sedation for intense wound scrubbing and cleansing procedures, sparing burn victims from more psychological and physical pain.

“People ask me if they need to go to a university setting to receive excellent healthcare,” Dr. Olaveson said. “Absolutely not! In fact, sometimes people get lost in those large systems. Here at EIRMC, you won’t get lost, you’ll get looked after. There’s just a different level of dedication to our team. It’s something I’m proud to be a part of.”

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