By Kathleen Berger in collaboration with MU Health
Nearly half a million people in the United States receive medical treatment for burns every year. According to the American Burn Association, a serious burn injury occurs every minute.
A new product, though, is changing the way the worst of those burns are treated. The AVITA Medical product is called spray-on skin, and it’s helping Eli Beasley heal.
Beasley is professional firefighter who received burns over 75 percent of his body when he was not on the job. Beasley explained that in a moment of carelessness, he tried to light a bonfire that had been doused in a gasoline mixture. He was instantly engulfed.
“The flames just kept coming back and coming back and coming back, and I could feel hands on me, and I kept trying to roll toward that person,” Beasley recalled.
Beasley was taken to University of Missouri Health Care’s Level 1 Trauma Center.
“A major burn patient in any one hospital is maybe the sickest patient in that hospital at that time, because it affects the entire body,” said Jeffrey Litt, DO, director of the burn and wound program at MU Health Care.
Traditionally, in very large burns, doctors harvest small bits of healthy skin to grow into sheets of skin for grafting.However, Litt was one of the first surgeons in Missouri to use the newly FDA-approved spray-on skin treatment. Litt said he’s seeing good results with Beasley.
In this procedure, a small sample of healthy skin is taken from the patient. An enzyme is used to break apart the skin cells, and the solution is sprayed onto the wound. The cells then start growing to form a new layer of skin. Clinical trials show patients recover more quickly, using less skin, than with traditional skin grafts. Patients end up spending less time in the hospital.
“The expansion ratio is huge,” Litt said.
According to AVITA Medical, there is no risk of rejection because the cells come from the patient. It takes about 30 minutes to process a skin sample from a patient.
Since the accident, Beasley has gone through more than 20 surgeries, along with countless hours of stretching with MU Health Care’s physical and occupational therapists. Through it all, though, he’s remained overwhelmingly optimistic, and he hopes to return to fighting fires next year.
“You have to wake up every day and choose to pick up the pieces of your old life,” Beasley said.