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From Burn to Better: Serendipity Leads Teen to SC Burn Center for Life-Changing Treatment

Gary Logan
July 05, 2023
Smiling teen (Anthony) wearing baseball cap.

Teen Suffers Serious Grease Burn: A Journey to Find Proper Treatment

In December 2022, Anthony Coad was stove-top cooking at home one afternoon when he reached for a pot, knocked over the pan he was using and spilled some grease, scalding his hand and left foot. His mom, Shanette Coad, co-owner with her husband, Daven, of a catering business in North Charleston, South Carolina, had seen more than her share of burns that come with cooking. Nearly 500,000 people seek medical treatment for burn injuries each year in the United States, and an estimated 72 percent of burns occur at home, according to the American Burn Association (ABA). The burn on Shanette’s 15-year-old son’s hand appeared minor but the one on his foot worried her.

“At first it didn’t look that bad, but grease burns don’t always show up immediately,” she says. “We cleaned it up, but it was still hurting him, so we took him to the closest emergency room.”

Anthony on a hospital bed with family member standing by.There Shanette learned her instincts were right as the wound to Anthony’s foot appeared to be a full-thickness burn involving all three layers of the skin. His burn was appropriately debrided, or cleaned, but Anthony needed to be evaluated and treated at a burn center. Shanette followed the ER’s recommendation to take Anthony to an affiliated out-of-state center. There, however, she was not overly pleased with incomplete and confusing communication from the staff regarding Anthony’s care needs, nor with the three-hour commute back and forth. 

Unexpected Encounter Changes the Course of Teen's Burn Treatment

Then, following Anthony’s brief admission at the out-of-state burn center, serendipity came into play back home. While catering an event in Charleston attended by Steven Kahn, M.D., a familiar face to Shanette at other charitable venues, she was astonished to learn that he was the chief of burn surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Burn Center.

“I didn’t even know Dr. Kahn was Dr. Kahn, I knew him as Steven at other events supporting his wife’s non-profit group,” says Shanette. “I was like, ‘There’s a burn center at MUSC? Well, that’s news to us.’”

More surprising news followed as other burn team staff at the event introduced themselves to Shanette, including Rohit Mittal, M.D., who is the Shriner’s Endowed Professor and chief of surgery at the pediatric burn program. After sharing Anthony’s out-of-state experience with Mittal, she was impressed with his response.

“Dr. Mittal looked at it genuinely concerned and wanted to make sure our son was taken care of,” says Shanette. “I was blown away, where we were that night in that moment.”

Consequently, Shanette switched Anthony’s care to MUSC, where Mittal assessed the teen’s burns. While he had undergone debridement at the out-of-state hospital, he did not have a skin graft.
“When he came to me his foot was swollen, he had trouble walking and he was in pain,” says Mittal. “We admitted him to hospital, took him to surgery the next day, cleaned his foot and did a skin graft, and he was discharged a couple of days later.”

Key Factors in Burn Care: Accessible Burn Centers & Clear Communication

“He was a very resilient kid, strong and motivated, and did a phenomenal job of taking care of his wound at home,” says Mittal. “He bounced back very quickly, which has facilitated him getting back to school and on with his life.”

That’s the goal for all patients with burns, young and old, Mittal stresses, which can best be achieved through having a fully staffed accessible and credentialed burn center, ideally in the same state. For patients and families, he adds, communication is critical to ensure a clear understanding of the patient’s wounds and step-by-step care plan.

“That’s what we provide—counseling the patient and family what to expect during the course of the burn injury and healing process and educating them on wound care at home, and the ability to contact and access the center if they have any problems,” says Mittal.

Otherwise, Mittal adds, patients are at greater risk of increased pain, potential infections, and prolonged courses of care that in many cases could be avoided: “The things we want to minimize are visits to the emergency room and readmissions.”

Thankfully, Shanette says, Anthony has avoided such delays: “They took good care of Anthony, his skin looks good, it was an all-around great experience. Dr. Mittal did a really good job with his surgery.”

“That’s what we provide—counseling the patient and family what to expect during the course of the burn injury and healing process and educating them on wound care at home, and the ability to contact and access the center if they have any problems.”
– Rohit Mittal, M.D.

As Anthony is now developing scarring from the wound graft on his left foot, he is entering the reconstructive phase of surgery with Mittal to improve both the function and cosmetic appearance of burn scars. That, along with physical therapy, says Mittal, will help him in his orientation back to high school as a junior in the fall.

Reflecting on Anthony’s serendipitous journey to the pediatric burn center at MUSC’s Shawn Jenkins Children’s Center, Mittal concludes, “The thing that really stood out for me was getting the word out to the larger community that they have a local resource here.”