Pharmacy Residency (PGY1)

Parkland burn unit staff, patients gather for 'family' reunion

Parkland burn unit staff, patients gather for 'family' reunion

Event is alive with laughter, hugs, familiar faces

As most will agree, family reunions are a time of laughter, fun and games and tasty food. The same held true on a recent fall day when members of the Parkland Health burn center and their “family” of burn survivors gathered for their own reunion of sort.

They came from near and far to see familiar faces, catch up on the past and forget about the day that officially bound them together as a family.

For Keith Prescher, that day was June 23, 2016. Keith was at work in a Midlothian, Texas plant when hot molten steel splashed on 60% of his body. He was airlifted to Parkland’s burn unit where, in total, he would spend nearly five months. Though Keith’s late wife would spend hour upon hour at her husband’s bedside, the burn unit staff became his second family.

With burns ranging from first to third-degree on his face, neck, arms, legs, foot and buttocks, Keith endured multiple skin graph surgeries and inpatient rehab stays before his official “homecoming” on Nov. 21, 2016.

“My mom was with him every day and night helping with the bathing and wrapping his wounds. The difference was in the hospital there were people to call if you needed help,” said Misti Prescher, Keith’s daughter. “When you go home, you are out there on your own and you can feel clueless because your loved one’s whole life has changed, and as a caregiver, yours does too. It is devastating.”

That is a prime reason Parkland’s burn unit staff believe reunions and its annual weeklong Camp I-Thonka-Chi for children ages 6 to 18 are so important. “It gives our patients the opportunity to see that they aren’t alone and that we’re here for them long after their hospitalization,” said Rebecca Coffey, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, CBRN, Parkland’s burn program manager. “And these reunions are important for our staff as well because often once a patient is discharged, we don’t hear from them. It is good to see that they are doing well.”

Chris Gadomski, a captain with Dallas Fire-Rescue, was responding to a call at Highland Hills Apartments in Oak Cliff on Sept. 29, 2021, when the force of a gas explosion flung him through three walls, severely burned his face and body, and “hammered” his lower legs, leaving open, compound fractures.

But two years and a day from that harrowing incident, Chris walked into the reunion with a smile and arms full of hugs.

“I’ve gone back to work full-time and when you consider the amount of burns I had, it’s incredible,” he said over a game-winning round of bingo. “It’s great to see the doctors and nurses and to show them that I’m good. I would not miss this reunion – I’d do anything for them.”

The sentiment is echoed by Ida Jagne who credits Parkland burn unit staff with bringing her now 6-year-old daughter, Rahmatullah “Riri” Wells out of her shell.

As Riri shrieks with joy and gives her mom a tight bear hug, Ida recalls how her youngster, anxious for some hot chocolate, was burned on her left arm, shoulder, chest and abdomen. Reliving the event of May 25, 2022, Ida said along with her infant son, she scooped Riri up and sped toward Parkland. “We were all traumatized,” she said, nearly in tears at the memory.

Riri spent the night in Parkland’s burn unit, but the scars from the scald were longer lasting.

“She kept her head down and she was withdrawn,” her mom said. That is until Riri attended Camp I-Thonka-Chi this past June. The camp, Choctaw for “a place that makes one strong or fearless, not afraid to face life” had a profound impact on Riri. “She came home a different person,” her mom said, a smile reaching from cheek to cheek. “The first thing she said was ‘when can I go back’?”

When she heard about the reunion, Ida knew in an instant they were going, but knowing that her daughter would be on top of the moon excited, waited until the morning of to tell her about the day’s adventure.

“I don’t feel like I live on an island anymore,” Ida said. “Parkland gave me back my daughter. It is an absolute blessing.”

For more information about burn care at Parkland, please visit www.parklandhealth.org/burn-unit.

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