Healing burns with water

February 2, 2009 4:34:14 PM PST
A new medical tool can help young burn victims to heal with less scarring. It uses a fast moving stream of water to help the body heal. The new tool called the liquid knife allows surgeons to treat burn patients by removing dead skin without damaging healthy cells.

It may help tiny burn victims grow up without unsightly scars, like 14-month-old Brendan Green. His grandmother looked away for a few seconds, just enough time for Brendan to get into trouble.

"He had, in that time, pulled it off the countertop on him," Brendan's mother, Meg, recalled.

A hot cup of water scalded his skin, burning more than 13 percent of his body. The worst burns were on his neck, chest and left arm.

"He was burned...down to his belly button," Meg said.

Dr. Brooke Burkey, a pediatric plastic surgeon at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Pa., operated on Brendan one week after the accident. Instead of a traditional scalpel, Dr. Burkey used a liquid knife. It cuts through skin with a razor-thin stream of saline that moves faster than the speed of sound.

"The cutting area of water is smaller than a traditional knife, so we can get into very fine areas -- very delicate areas with a lot more precision," Dr. Burkey explained.

Using the liquid knife, surgeons remove only dead cells while leaving healthy skin in tact. Doctors say precision may be the key to reducing scars, especially for babies and toddlers.

"Young children's skin tends to be thinner than adult skin, so the more precise we can be, the better," Dr. Burkey said.

Meg Green is thrilled her little guy is back to being a curious toddler again.

"Nobody said that he's not going to have scars, but if he does, they probably will be pretty minimal compared to what they could have been," Meg said.

That means Brendan may recover without missing a beat.

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