Playing with fire


POSTED: Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A prominent Honolulu burn doctor reports a sharp rise over the last week in patients seeking treatment for fireworks-related injuries.

Many of the injuries were to children, although no exact figures were kept.

“;This is one of the busiest New Year's that I've had on call,”; said Dr. Randy Wong, director of the Hawaii Burn Care Team and Burn Unit at Straub Clinic & Hospital.

Five people were treated at the emergency room during the early-morning hours of the new year, he said.

The figure is about double the two to three patients Straub emergency room doctors treat on average for fireworks-related injuries on and just after New Year's Eve.

Many more sought treatment through a doctor's appointment.

“;The number of outpatients is remarkable,”; said Wong, adding that he anticipates treating 30 to 40 patients within the two weeks following New Year's Eve. That compares with the estimated five to 10 patients he normally treats during that time period.

Typically, patients will call up to two weeks after New Year's Eve if they notice their injury worsening.

So far this week, Wong has treated injuries ranging from bruises to second-degree blisters on people's hands caused by handling fireworks with a fast-burning fuse. The patients, predominantly males, range in age from 7 to their mid-30s, he said.

Playing with fireworks resulted in critical injuries for three children ages 12 and under.

On New Year's Eve a 12-year-old boy was transported to Straub, the only burn unit in the state, after he suffered second-degree burns when fireworks in his pocket ignited. His clothing caught on fire, and the child suffered burns to 15 percent of his body.

On Maui an 11-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl were injured just after midnight on New Year's Day when they were playing with fireworks in the bed of the family's pickup truck at their home in lower Waiehu. A loud boom was heard, and all of the fireworks in the truck bed ignited.

Police said the children's clothes caught on fire.

Both were transported in critical condition to Maui Memorial Medical Center and then to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children. Police found several homemade fireworks at the scene, including aluminum cans that were duct-taped together.

Serious burns for children as well as adults can lead to long-term effects, warned Wong, who supports a statewide ban on fireworks.

“;So many of these (injuries) are preventable,”; he said.

Third-degree burns can threaten circulation of the hand and foot.

“;If not treated in time, that could lead to amputation,”; he said. A scar or keloids from third-degree burns can sometimes limit motion of the joints. In some cases it will cause fingers to fuse together.

Burn scars that do not heal correctly can ulcerate and possibly lead to Marjolin's cancer, a degenerative condition that can develop in the wound 15 to 20 years after the injury.