Like most teenagers, 14 year old Holly enjoys listening to music, painting and baking cookies with her good friends Savitri and Stella. When she leaves school, she wants to be an anaesthetist. Unlike many other kids her age however, Holly has spent the last year in and out of The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) after what was meant to be an exciting camping trip turned into a life or death situation.
Last January, on a quiet Friday night, Trish and her husband James were relaxing at home when they received a call that would change their lives forever. Their daughter Holly was away camping at a remote spot at Aireys Inlet with a friend and her dad. Holly was very excited to experience camping for the first time and enjoy a camping rite of passage – roasting marshmallows on the open fire.
Holly was sitting beside the campfire when suddenly it flared up, and Holly’s hair and clothes caught alight. Trish and James had no idea how severely Holly was injured as they rushed to the Emergency Department (ED) at the RCH, where the expert burns team was waiting.
“It was horrible, you never, ever want to see your child in the ED, especially after a fire,” Trish said.
Trish and James only had time to say hi to Holly before she was rushed to theatre for life-saving treatment. It took hours in surgery to meticulously and expertly clean her injuries to prevent infection and minimise the scarring. Thankfully Holly had come to the RCH, a world leader in burns treatment, which gave her the best chance of recovery.
For most of the next week Holly was under heavy sedation to help manage her pain. She was in and out of surgery to clean and debride her burns, a procedure to remove damaged and infected skin to help the wounds heal.
“Seeing Holly hooked up to multiple machines for drugs to keep her comfortable, a breathing tube, a tube in her nose for feeding and a catheter for toileting was the worst experience for any parent to go through. I left the hospital in tears and cried for most of the weekend,” said Trish.
Over the two and half months Holly was in hospital, she required 18 trips to theatre to have her burns debrided and grafted. Holly’s parents knew she was in safe hands under the care of the incredible RCH burns team.
“I’m so thankful that we’ve been in the care of the RCH, because as far as the hospital goes it’s an amazing place,” said Trish.
In the past, the main focus of burns treatment was keeping patients alive. But that has improved dramatically and now the focus is on scar management because, as Holly’s burns surgeon Dr Monique Bertinetti explains, scars impact children both physically and emotionally.
“Physically, the scars can be quite tight and itchy, so then there’s a chance that when it’s crossing joints, it can affect the movement of that joint, so that’s the main way it can impact on her physically. And then emotionally, unfortunately, there’s still a stigma in society regarding facial scarring and burn scars,” said Monique.
New technologies and techniques are playing an enormous role in improving outcomes for children and young people with burns. Monique’s appointment at the RCH has been made possible through the generous support of transformative gifts in Wills from individuals including Marjorie Tivendale and Laurie Davies.
Monique has introduced a number of new initiatives which will change the long-term outcomes for patients presenting to the RCH with burns, in particular those with facial burns. And thanks to the generosity of donors, the RCH is at the forefront of burns treatments. One of the innovative new treatments is called CO2 therapy, a type of laser treatment that channels down into the scar and leads to collagen remodelling, which improves the appearance of the scar. It can also improve the pliability of the scar, which makes it easier for children to move their joints, therefore, minimising the number of surgeries they may require.
Holly’s treatment and recovery will continue well into her adulthood. But with help from the RCH Foundation’s incredible donors, Monique and her team at the hospital will be with Holly every step of the way until she turns 18 and moves into adult care.
After a very difficult year, Holly and her family are looking forward to spending this special Christmas together. Trish is truly thankful for the care and treatment that Holly received at the RCH.
“The specialists and the whole team are phenomenal. I’m so thankful for everything they have done for our family.”
You can make a difference for patients like Holly by donating to our Christmas Appeal.