New York firemen couldn't forget it either. They wanted to fly her here for help. Unfortunately there was no place in New York City to properly treat her third-degree burns.
The girl, Phan Kim Phuc, survived receiving treatment in Viet Nam from local and American physicians. The New York Firefighters Foundation began raising funds to created a local burn unit, a specialized facility to treat burn victims like nine-year-old Kim. They succeeded and it opened in 1977.
Three weeks ago we were touring the facility at New York Presbyterian Hospital, the biggest and possibly the best in the country. It is located on the upper-east side of Manhattan. Our guide was the unit's director and chief surgeon, Dr. Roger Yurt. He's been treating patients there since 1983.
Dr. Yurt married my sister, Joan, many years ago and has put up with me ever since. I ask a lot of questions and after an hour with him I was ready to do a little surgery myself. Roger, Francesca, Joan and The Grove Guy
Fortunately, that didn't happen. I did learn that
the hospital's burn center treats over a thousand patients a year. On our tour we visited the submarine-like hyperbaric chamber (for treating smoke inhalation), saw many bandaged patients, and visited the debriding room. That's where new burn patients have their wounds washed and dead and contaminated skin is cut away.
Brother Roger will retire in June. Last fall he was feted at the Plaza as the hospital's "Doctor of the Year". He is a hero to many, especially "the burned". He is praised in the several books written by his patients about their trials by fire. In the late 90's Time magazine featured Roger and his surgical team.
In my brother-in-law's office I saw a fireman's hat. The burn surgeon told me it had been given to him by the Firemen's Foundation in appreciation for his helping survivors of the 9-11 tragedy.
9-11 letter of appreciation. One of many in the unit's hallway.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center a few miles south, Roger's 40-bed unit was expected to overflow with new patients. On that horrific day only received 22 people were brought to the burn center. One person told me, "While there were thousands killed, there were a relatively low number of injuries. If you were in the towers you most likely escaped unscathed or did not survive".
Dr. Yurt's hat bears the number "343", the number of firemen killed that day.
Kim Phuc, now 52, survived her injuries. She is now a U.N. goodwill ambassador helping victims of war. In 2009 she attended the World Burn Congress in New York City, speaking up for people injured by fire. While there, she took the time to thank Dr. Yurt and his unit for their important work.
More about burns,
In New York learned that most burns are seasonal, caused by heaters in the winter and barbeques in the summer.
It doesn't take much. You will receive a third-degree burn if your skin is exposed to 155 degree heat for one second (your water heater is probably set at 140. A couple of seconds of 140 degree heat will destroy your skin as well).
The treatment of burns has greatly improved in the last forty years mainly due to improved early surgical procedures. In 1975 your chances of surviving third-degree burns were roughly calculated by adding your age to the percentage of your skin loss (a twenty-year-old with fifty-percent of his exterior receiving third-degree burns would have a 30 percent chance of surviving). Now, it would be twice that, 60%.
The biggest challenge is to prevent burns in the first place. That can be done with improved parenting, fewer drunks falling into their grills and educating the public. Roger's burn unit has an extensive educational outreach program to help with that.
We brought a few Don't Get Burned brochures home.
That's it from the Grove Guy. Have a safe summer.