In the lead-up to the festive season, experts at Queen Victoria Hospital (QVH) have been joined by one of their patients to remind people to be burns aware, especially in the home when it comes to candles.
25-year-old Emily Fairbrass suffered third-degree burns last December when her hair caught alight whilst blowing out a candle at home. Emily had leaned over to put out the flame when one of her long blonde locks caught fire, spreading to her head, face and neck. Unable to extinguish the flames herself, Emily sought help from a neighbour who succeeded and called an ambulance.
Speaking of the accident Emily said: “It all happened so quickly. I was at home on my own with my dog and had been cooking so lit a candle to help mask the smell. I never knew something like blowing out a small candle in my dining room could result in this. I panicked, I just didn’t know what to do. When the adrenaline kicked in I just kept shouting “my hair, my hair” and saying sorry – I knew I was going to cause everyone, especially my mum, a lot of worry.”
Emily was referred to Queen Victoria Hospital for specialist treatment for burns to her face, neck and head. She has undergone three skin grafts and a year later is still receiving monthly physiotherapy and treatment to reduce the scarring on her neck.
Emily said: “Without the staff at the hospital I couldn’t have done it. They were so friendly and supportive and helped make it a lot easier when I had to have the dressings changed. I now wear a wig but my hair is starting to grow underneath. I have some scarring and skin grafts that you say see but it’s superficial. It hasn’t changed me as a person, if anything it’s made me stronger. Don’t get me wrong I have my down days when I wished it hadn’t happened but I can’t change it so I’m not going to let it stop me doing the things I want to do.”
The student veterinary nurse is now back at work and studying for her degree but is understandably cautious of candles. “I consider myself about 50 per cent healed. I’m still battling some scarring but my consultant is pleased that everything is healing as it should. I don’t want to tell people not to use candles but please if you do be careful. If I can prevent one person from going through what I have I will be happy.”
In 2019, the QVH burns service received 1,389 new referrals for adults aged over 16 years old, a 22.8% increase on the year before. 289 of these needed inpatient care.
Nora Nugent, the consultant plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, said: “We know this winter people will be spending more time at home and it’s really important that we are all burns aware. Candles, including those on Christmas trees or festive decorations, look pretty but can cause life-changing injuries. Radiators, hot drinks, boiling pans and hot oven dishes can also be potential sources of burns. If the unthinkable does happen, remember to cool the burn as soon as possible with running cool tap water for 20 minutes and remove all clothing and any jewellery, before calling for help. This immediate first aid can help make all the difference.”