Wisconsin burn unit director talks about road to recovery

Dr. Lee Faucher says skin graft patients stay in the hospital about 1 day for every 1 percent of their body burned
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 3:31 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 17, 2022 at 5:59 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Several of the Pulaski students and graduates at last weekend’s bonfire are now hospitalized with serious burns. The medical director of a Wisconsin burn unit talked about what their road to recovery could look like.

That road can be a long one for a burn survivor. We know one mother posted on social media that her son will need multiple skin grafts after 21 percent of his body was burned in the bonfire explosion.

Dr. Lee Faucher, medical director for the U.W. Health Burn and Wound Center in Madison, talked with us in general terms -- not directly about any of these cases -- about what people suffering from serious burns could go through.

“When someone has a big burn, the most crucial part is replacing the fluids that they’re losing, so that’s resuscitation phase, and then surgery and therapy and then rehabilitation phase,” Dr. Faucher said.

There are first-, second-, and third-degree burns. Faucher said a first-degree burn can be like a sunburn, leaving the skin red and inflamed with slight pain and healing takes a few days. Second-degree burns damage deeper layers of the skin, most often showing up as blisters, but the skin will heal on its own.

He said if a patient has third-degree burns, all the layers of the skin are injured and aren’t capable of healing on their own. The irreparably damaged skin needs to be removed and replaced with healthy skin taken from another part of the body. That procedure is known as skin grafting.

“A good rule we have -- a good rule we follow -- is that people with third-degree burns that need grafting, sometimes people spend a day in the hospital per percent burned,” Dr. Faucher said.

”If you have 20% of your body that’s burned and you require surgery, then you’re going to spend at least 20 days in the hospital. But sometimes it takes even up to two years for people to return completely back to normal.”

He added that patients won’t be bedridden for those two years and can return to a normal routine when they’re able while they receive therapy and help from their loved ones.

“It’s well-established that people that suffer from burns and come from a stable household, or a stable social situation, do much better.”

Dr. Faucher couldn’t go into specifics on how much treatments cost, but he said for many burn survivors and their families the medical bills are significant.

The Burn and Wound Clinic at UW Health has 11 beds to help burn victims, whether they’re children or adults, but Dr. Faucher says they’ll always help as many as they can.