By Jeff Todd

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s been a busy time around the UCHealth Burn Center with a higher-than-average caseload from fireworks injuries combined with the normal increase in injuries around grills and fires.

“We take care of patients all the way from Montana through to New Mexico,” said Dr. Arek Wiktor, a Burn Surgeon at UCHealth. “We have specialized nurses, nutritionists, physical therapists, pharmacists, it’s an entire team to optimize the care for the burn patient. it’s not just about saving a life; it’s about getting patient’s back to their quality of life before the injury.”

(credit: Conor Neal)

UCHealth sees about 500 admissions to the burn center each year. July is the month with the most injuries from grill accidents.

“It was just a peaceful afternoon and next thing I knew it was a big boom in our ear, a bright flash of light. We were both running into the house. We were both still on fire,” said Conor Neal, who had a spray paint can explode because of a grill on his apartment balcony. “Pretty decent burn all the way down the side of my face and my ear wasn’t even recognizable. Pretty much from my fingers all the way up to my shoulders is just second and third degree burns. Luckily the staff here is amazing, been healing up here really quickly.”

Neal’s accident happened the day after Father’s Day. Neal’s fiancée spent more than two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at UCHealth.

“They took a portion of her thigh that got burned as well but it was already starting to heal. They took some of that skin and they described it to us as they basically spray painted it onto her hands. Ironically enough. Hopefully all the cells took and are promoting some growth,” he said.

Neal says the incident has changed his outlook on life. His family has set up an online campaign to help with expenses. He’s hoping others won’t be complacent around open-flames and to not take life for granted. Usually the couple would have been on the balcony with their four-month-old son. On this day, for some reason, they decided to leave him playing on a mat inside the apartment.

(credit: Conor Neal)

“If my son had been out there with us, I don’t have words,” He said. “It’s definitely changed the way I look at the world by a significant margin. Someone was looking out for us. The fact that I can go home and hold him.”

Dr. Wiktor says the three most common accidents the burn center sees are around fire pits, propane grills and charcoal grills.

“The most common issues are with the propane line. Inspect your grill before you use it. You can get some soap and water and spray it onto the connection to make sure there are no leaks. The other problem we see is people will turn on the propane with the lid down on the grill. They try and light it, it doesn’t light, the gas builds up and then you get an explosion. You always want to light your grill with the top open,” Dr. Wiktor said.

He says the problems seen around charcoal grills isn’t with the briquettes themselves.

“The most common burns we see are patients who apply an accelerant to the charcoal. They’ll put a lot of lighter fluid or gasoline and they’ll have their charcoal grill right next to gas cans where the fumes will then explode.”

(credit: CBS)

If you light charcoal properly you actually don’t need any accelerant at all. You don’t need lighter fluid or gasoline to start your coals.”

And Dr. Wiktor says there’s a simple way to help with a burn by putting on a damp cloth or running under cool water.

“Try to use cold water, not ice cold water because the cells in your body, if they’re exposed to heat and then cold suddenly it will actually rupture your cells. It’s about cool water for comfort then go to your local emergency department or this UCHealth,” Dr. Wiktor said. “Patients will like to put raw egg, mustard, oils on their burns. Those can actually just increase infections. We recommend antibiotic ointment and some non-stick gauze.”

Jeff Todd

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