Burn Center Gives Young Patient the Royal Treatment

Austin and one of his Burn Center nurses, Tammy Berry, RN

The day before Thanksgiving in 2011, 11-year-old Austin Bennett of Janesville was playing with a friend when the two came across a can of gas in the friend’s garage. The boys poured the gas into a cup, but before they could do much else with it, the friend’s dad intervened.

How that cup of gasoline spontaneously ignited is anyone’s guess – but that’s what happened next. As the friend dropped the burning cup, the contents were thrown onto Austin’s left pant leg, engulfing it in flames. Austin dropped and rolled, but the flame wouldn’t go out until the friend’s father ripped Austin’s pants off of him. That act likely saved his life.

Burned from his ankle to his knee with third- and fourth-degree burns, Austin’s local hospital in Mattoon determined he needed to be cared for by a Burn Center. He was sent by ambulance to Memorial’s Regional Burn Center, where he immediately underwent skin graft surgery, in which doctors removed healthy skin from the undamaged part of his upper left leg to help heal the damaged part of his lower leg. When a burn reaches third- and fourth-degrees, the skin cells are too damaged to regenerate.

“It was horrible – a nightmare,” said Austin’s mother, Holly Pennington. “But I wouldn’t take him anywhere else. The Burn Center staff was awesome. They were Austin’s favorite part – he loved the nurses.”

Holly and Austin stayed at Memorial Medical Center on the burn unit for a week; Austin’s dad, Andrew Pennington, drove back and forth so he could continue working. After a week of treating Austin’s burns at home, they returned for a clinic check. Austin had an infection and was immediately readmitted for three days of treatment. For the next several weeks, Austin and his mother made several weekly visits to the Burn Center for checkups, an outpatient procedure for a second, temporary skin graft and another inpatient stay when he received a permanent skin graft. Each time he stayed as an inpatient, nurse manager Doug Gregory, RN, brought in his Xbox 360 for Austin to use as part of his therapy – Austin had so much fun playing, he forgot it hurt to move.

“They had it set up in his room for him every time they knew he was coming,” Holly said. “They treated him like a king.”

The Burn Center has since ordered its own Xbox to keep on the unit and use with other patients.

Since the New Year, Austin has been doing “awesome,” Holly said.

“He has to wear a compression stocking up past his knee to help with the scarring,” she said. “He’ll have permanent scarring – some areas are worse than others depending on how deep the burn was. But it hasn’t hindered him at all or held him back from doing anything. He’s very active, busy in all sports.”

On June 23, Austin and his uncle will participate in the Burn Center’s annual 5K run/walk at Springfield’s Washington Park, which helps raise funds for the center and its education and outreach programs. Holly said the Burn Center had a lasting impression on their family, and Austin looks forward to see the friends he made there. Because every Burn Center employee made a point to visit him during their shift when he was on the unit, Austin knows everyone by name, including the unit’s mascot, Burney Bear, whom he met at the end of his first inpatient stay.

“They’re amazing people,” she said. “They helped me out with things I couldn’t afford to do – supplies I needed for home that insurance wouldn’t cover. And just for them to show the care they gave us is amazing. To show that amount of care and concern for a patient is amazing.”

For more information on the Regional Burn Center’s sixth annual 5K Run/Walk, which steps off at 8 a.m. June 23 from the picnic shelter west of the tennis courts at Washington Park, visit MemorialBurnCenter.com.

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