A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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Heritage: The Story of St. Mary's Hospital, 1880-1980
By Leo G. Bryne and Sister Alberta Cammack, C.S.J

Chapter III Contemporary St. Mary's
Burn Unit

The newly expanded Burn Unit is unique in Arizona, for the past ten years have provided invaluable experience and knowledge which went into the unit plans for the West Wing. Because infection is one of the most dangerous complications for burn victims, each patient room is individually controlled with filtered air at 85-degree temperature to prevent bacteria from entering.

A treatment room, with its tanks of circulating water for cleansing and the removal of dead tissues lies at the end of the complex. Hoisting equipment raises and lowers the patient twice a day into the stainless steel tanks and then into the plastic drying tent to be dried by a flow of warm air from electric blowers.

A serious burn, one of the most painful of injuries, is a severe shock to the entire body system. Time is a critical factor. Body fluids must be maintained, shock must be treated, and infection prevented. In third-degree burns, body fluids are rapidly lost and must be replaced intravenously. Burned areas are covered with fresh, sterile pigskin which provides a dressing and reduces pain, allowing the patient's own skin to regenerate itself. When this does not happen, early grafting is accomplished by taking skin from donor sites on the patient's own body. Placed in separate sections over the burned area, this skin will grow under proper conditions and a healthy graft will be achieved. Splints are used in early treatment to prevent joint contractures or shortening of muscles. After the graft has taken, exercise of the unused muscles must begin as quickly as possible to ensure their normal function. Splints, bandages and masks, providing a certain amount of pressure, help to prevent disfigurement from the pulling of scar tissue while the burns are healing.

Plastic surgeons and nurses together with respiratory and rehabilitation therapists are part of patient care while severely burned victims undergo long periods of treatment and rehabilitation.

The Burn Unit, which functions as a regional center for Southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, has grown from a three-bed to a nine-bed unit since it was first proposed and supported by Tucson Firefighters. The new wing has added extra space for recreation and dining room areas. Closed circuit TV allows those who are isolated because of a need for a sterile environment to visit with their families, and a specially designed telephone allows the patient to talk with visitors in the lounge.

Continue with Chapter III: Contemporary St. Mary's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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