Trang, now 16, grew up in Vietnam with her siblings, parents and grandparents. When she was 10, a neighbor was grilling squid in the yard and a terrible accident occurred. His liquid fuel splashed, causing a flash fire. Suddenly Trang was on fire. Trang’s mother, Sen, wrapped her in a bear hug, saving her life.
Trang finds specialized care
Trang received urgent care in a local hospital for nine days and then was transferred to the National Institute of Burns in Hanoi. She was hospitalized for three months and had numerous surgeries, including grafting to her face, thigh and hands. Over the next five years, Trang underwent more than 10 surgeries to help heal her wounds.
Trang and her family knew that she needed more specialized care. Their search led them to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, where, over the last year and a half, Trang has had more surgeries on her hands, lips and arms. In August 2020, she had laser surgery that separated her fingers, which had been partly fused by scars.
Trang said physical and occupational therapy sessions at the hospital have given her the freedom to be more independent. When mother and daughter first arrived at the hospital, Sen had to take Trang to school on the back of her bike. Now, Trang will be able to ride her bike there on her own.
Wrap-around care powers Carrie through recovery
The 2006 car accident was horrific. Carrie, three days from her 17th birthday, was trapped and unconscious. An off-duty firefighter and a carpenter happened upon the scene. The carpenter used his hammer to break the window, and both men worked to free Carrie from the wreckage right before the SUV exploded into flames. With second-, third- and fourth-degree burns over 70% of her body, as well as a serious brain injury, Carrie was airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital, then transferred to the Boston Shriners Hospital.
Doctors put Carrie into a medically induced coma for three months. Carrie said she “woke up to a whole new life and a whole new body.” She recalled, “I woke up from my coma missing my dominant right hand and with half of my left foot amputated. My right foot was also removed. Doctors wanted to leave the ultimate decision up to me as to how much of my legs to amputate.”
In consultation with her Boston care team and providers at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Springfield, Carrie decided to amputate evenly below the knee to obtain the best prosthetic function. Carrie received her first pair of prosthetic legs eight months after the accident, returned to high school for her second semester of senior year, and graduated on time in 2007.
Carrie credits the care she received at the Boston Shriners Hospital with helping her succeed after the car accident. “There are so many people who made an impact on me at the Boston Shriners Hospital,” she said, mentioning her surgeon, nursing staff and therapy teams.
“If I needed to cry, they would be there to listen,” she said. “If I wanted to be a silly teenager and jam out to music, they would sing and dance with me. If I wanted to be a dramatic teenager, they knew how to guide me in the right direction. No matter what, they were always there.”
New research: looking beyond the short term
Due to extraordinary medical and technological advancements in burn treatment, the survival rate among children with burns has increased dramatically since Shriners Hospitals for Children first started treating children’s burns in the 1960s.
In addition to life-changing interventions such as skin grafts and critical care support, our medical teams prioritize ongoing care as children with burn injuries grow into adulthood. These patients may need special treatments to help with mobility and functional limitations caused by scarring, and they also often face unique physical, psychological and social challenges.
The Boston Shriners Hospital has been a trailblazer in defining and measuring what happens to patients after their burns are initially treated. Colleen M. Ryan, M.D., FACS, serves as the clinical director at the Boston-Harvard Burn Injury Model System (for which the Boston Shriners Hospital is a participating site).
“A burn injury can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” said Dr. Ryan. “We are developing sensitive instruments to measure the impact of burn injuries on a child’s physical, psychological, social and emotional development.” Doctors study patients’ growth and milestones in physical and psychological function, sleep, communication and speech development, social interactions with family and friends, and community and school performance. This can help them identify which treatments and interventions are most effective, she said.
Dr. Ryan is working on several studies on patients’ long-term outcomes, with the hope that the rehabilitation and recovery process can be made easier. “The thought is that if we can measure it, we can improve it,” Dr. Ryan said.
Living a full life after a burn injury
In October 2020, Carrie made a virtual return to the Boston Shriners Hospital from her home in Texas, sharing her story at an online educational symposium. “Burn injuries are the most debilitating and disfiguring injuries the human body can endure,” she told the attendees. “Thanks to modern medicine and skilled, dedicated medical professionals, I am now thriving more than 14 years after my injury.” Now in her early 30s, Carrie lives with her husband, Justin, and three active dogs. She works as a senior communications consultant and enjoys camping, walking and hiking, lifting weights and writing.
Burn Recovery Studies
- The Preschool Life Impact Burn Recovery Evaluation (LIBRE) and School-Aged LIBRE studies focus on the impact of burn injuries on patients’ physical and emotional health and development. The studies aim to evaluate different long-term burn outcomes by measuring recovery post-injury through a questionnaire that parents can fill out online. Parent participation in these studies helps us help others.
Carrie and Trang have some powerful advice for others who are dealing with severe injuries. “Trust someone who has been there: There is hope in your darkest moments,” Carrie said. “Life after a burn injury is not easy by any means, but a full and abundant future still exists for you as long as you put in the work.” Trang agrees. “Try to do your best to overcome the situation. I don’t have to be afraid for the future. I can hope to have a better life, and you can, too.”
The Shriners Hospitals for Children health care system has other locations that offer treatment for burn injuries in addition to our Boston location, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and California. Visit shrinershospitalsforchildren.org for more information.