Laser lessens scars, boosts life for burn patient

January 24, 2013 3:00:25 PM PST
A few weeks ago, ESPN's Hannah Storm shared her story of being seriously burned in a home cooking disaster. For a Montgomery county woman, the accident was all too familiar.

It only took a few seconds for Hannah Storm to get 3rd degree burns on her face & neck when a gas grill flared.

Heidi Paone of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, understands how life can change in a flash. But she is healing, thanks to amazing new technology at Temple University's Burn Center.

"It happened so fast," Heidi recalls of that day in August 2011.

While hurricane irene raged outside, Heidi Paone was preparing to fry chicken wings in her kitchen. The dish was supposed to be a treat for her husband Tim when he came home from work.

"The oil was in a pot on the stove. All of a sudden, there was a lot of smoke, and flames, and it exploded," says Heidi.

Her first instinct was to get the pot out of the house.

But she tripped going down the back steps.

Heidi says, "The oil splattered all over me, and parts of my clothing caught on fire."

Neighbors - including an EMT - heard her screams, came to help and called 911.

She had put water on thinking it would help, but that actually spread the oil further.

Heidi was horrified by what she saw in a bathroom mirror.

"You're all black and mangled," she recalls vividly.

Heidi spent 41 days in the ICU with 2nd & 3rd degree burns over much of her body.

Skin grafts saved her life, but left thick scarring that made it hard to move her hands, arms, and neck. She couldn't turn her head enough to see safely for driving.

Fortunately, she was among the first patients treated at Temple University's Burn Center with the UltraPulse laser.

It's a ramped-up version of the kind doctors use to smooth wrinkles.

Dr. William Hughes of the burn center says, "It drills tiny little holes deep down into the scar tissue."

He continued, "Part of it is breaking up that dense scar tissue, allowing it to remodel, and allowing it to flatten."

Heidi felt a change right away -

"I could just feel it release and now I can just turn my head and talk. It's great," she said.

But the improvements continued for months.

She no longer needs splints to keep her thumb straight, and the scarring is actually gone from some of her neck and chest. Her skin is very smooth and soft in those area.

Dr. Hughes says UltraPulse can even help old scars.

"Really, there's not much of an age limit involved," he says.

He says some doctors have been using it successfully for keloid scars, which are very hard to treat. He expects to use it for them in the future.

Dr. Hughes says the results with UltraPulse have been very rewarding.

"It's nice after scarring people (with skin grafts) to help them just survive, there's actually some therapy I can do to help them get better after they've healed," he note.

Heidi is thankful for the people who saved her, and the technology restoring her skin.

But she doesn't want anyone else to be in that situation.

"If a fire starts in your kitchen, get out. Don't try to save it. I mean, the kitchen could've been restored. But now, I have scars for the rest of my life, and this memory that I hold onto forever," Heidi says.

For more information on the UltraPulse treatment, contact the Burn Center 215-952-0792.