By Nancy Chee, ReSurge volunteer occupational therapist
The most common causes of burn injuries in Nepal include open cooking fires where women catch their scarves on fire, flame burns from hot oils and children who play too close to a pot of water while mom is cooking or just being too curious. Burns can also occur when people sleep too close to fires to stay warm and may accidently pitch or roll onto fires.
One of the most severe burns I have helped treat on this trip is of a 4-month-old infant girl named Astha. She was in a traditional ritual at two months of age for newborns where they are anointed with oil. She was lying on her mother’s lap and keeping warm close to an open fire. Her mother leaned forward and Astha accidently fell into the fire, sustaining severe burns to her face and right hand.
Due to the limited understanding of treatment of acute burns early, she developed the tightness of scars over her face to where her mouth almost completely closed to almost less than a 0.5cm diameter opening. She was limited to getting her nutrition through a small eyedropper and unable to suck.
Astha was brought to the burn hospital just before we arrived. The therapist, Mohan, remembered a plastic splint that I had shown him years ago and made one that hooked onto the corners of Astha’s mouth and stretched it apart with a rubber band extended behind her head.
It may look like something from “Silence of the Lambs,” but it worked! Within one day of wearing it, the mouth opening expanded to just larger than 0.5cm. With some suggestions for modification to Mohan, we changed the splint each day and Astha’s mouth opening is almost 1.5 cm.
Her mother is ecstatic to be able to feed her more easily with the eyedropper, and Astha is even sucking now. With her mother’s persistence and dedication, I know Astha will survive and thrive.