Lutho, an eight year old girl from Frere in the Eastern Cape, arrived at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital at the end of 2013. Lutho suffered from 52% flame burn wounds after her dress accidently caught alight from an open fire during a family gathering. While hospitalised, Lutho experienced the full scope of the Rehabilitation Programme offered at the Hospital’s Specialist Burns Unit to ensure that her recovery is all-encompassing. Lutho was fortunate to have the support of an aromatherapist, as well as cultural and art therapists.
Cultural therapy is interpreted in many ways but for the burns patients at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, it often determines how they come to terms with their burns incident and scarring. 85% of the patients admitted to the Hospital’s Specialist Burns Unit are younger than six and 98% are from disadvantaged communities. The unfortunate reality is that meeting children with scars and disfigurement often make people feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how to react. The cultural therapist’s counselling is critical for eliminating the family’s anxiety of the negative stigma attached to scarred children who are sometimes rejected in their home communities. Many of these children, without some kind of intervention, end up feeling lonely and rejected and have to form new life maps, as well as deal with the pain and trauma they have experienced. The support of a cultural therapist not only strengthens the patient’s self-esteem but also supports their families to assist with the child’s reintegration and acceptance into society. The cultural therapy was of vital importance for because her home language is Xhosa and she understands very little English. These therapy sessions ensured that there was no miscommunication between Lutho and the staff who cared for her. Through this, Lutho and her family understood what her recovery would entail for the months ahead.
Lutho also spent time with the art therapist, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Art therapy allows patients to portray their emotions and mindset through art, where the spoken word can be very threatening – especially when a child has been through a traumatic incident. Children who are able to communicate and verbalise themselves in any way, will heal better as they feel better understood and supported. The art therapist confirms that during the process of healing, she is able to identify improvement of confidence, where feelings of anger are first expressed towards a traumatic experience and with time, being at peace with their new life map.
Aromatherapy is another aspect of Lutho’s rehabilitation that was beneficial to her healing. Aromatherapy with burns patients offers both physical relief and emotionally restores self-esteem, with the primary objective to relax and relieve stress and anxiety. The technique used with burns patients is not really a massage as there is no manipulation of muscles but rather a very gentle stroking motion over the body. The aromatherapist treats areas of skin that haven’t been burned, donor sites for skin grafts that have healed and burned or grafted skin that has already healed. This therapy lulls the patients’ bodies into deep relaxation, which automatically leads to relieving stiff muscles when the body is put into a very relaxed state. The emotional healing takes place when the mother is encouraged to continue with regular massaging, and the mother and child are able to bond again. This is an important process as parents often experience a feeling of guilt after their child has been burned. The most noticeable outcome is how relaxed Lutho became after being massaged. The majority of children fall asleep during, or shortly after being massaged. Nursing staff and parents have reported that their patients sleep for a longer time and more peacefully after they have been with the aromatherapist, allowing their bodies to heal more effectively.
After a lengthy period of treatment and rehabilitation, Lutho is back home in the Eastern Cape and will be fondly remembered by the Burns Unit staff who cared for her.
Thanks to your donations from Mandela day – we are able to give more little patients like Lutho a fighting chance.