Using laser treatment to erase memories
Janelle Roha, blinded by the thick smoke from her burning home, frantically searched for a way out. She felt the coolness of the window and thought, "safety."
But the heavy black smoke she was forced to breathe was too much and she passed out. She came to long enough to feel a tube in her throat and the vibrations from an engine. That was September 3, 2015.
Weeks later, Janelle woke up from a medically-induced coma and learned she was airlifted by Life Flight that fateful day to Legacy Health’s Oregon Burn Center (OBC). Heavily sedated and wrapped in gauze, she learned she had suffered third degree burns on her neck, back, legs, arms, hands, and face – 30 percent of her body.
Janelle’s 17-year-old daughter had run out the burning home that morning to get help from a neighbor and an off-duty firefighter. They knocked down the door and pulled Janelle to safety. She heard their beloved dog, whose barking woke her up that morning, perished in the fire. Although the fire had almost devoured the family home, she was alive and thankful she had a loving husband, family, and friends there to support her on a long journey to recovery. This was October 4, 2015.
After 49 days, Janelle was released from the OBC and went to the Legacy Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon for one week then discharged to home. The scars went with her. Scars can cause emotional pain too. Burn survivors get looks of horror from total strangers and are shocked when they see their own reflection. “Getting looks of pity or catching my own reflection in a window or mirror was startling,” says Janelle. She was also left with limited movement in her hands making it difficult to pull on clothing and continue her work as a full-time florist.
After multiple skin grafts, Janelle still had physical reminders of that morning. Thick scars from her burns and patches of discolored skin where doctors had to take grafts were visible reminders of what happened that day. Nathan Kemalyan, M.D., a burn surgeon with the OBC, recommends laser therapy treatment for patients like Janelle. The treatment appealed to Janelle and she became one of the first patients to receive laser treatment for burns.
Legacy Emanuel began offering pulsed–dye laser and fractional CO2 laser treatment therapies in 2016 to treat patients with hypertrophic (raised) scars caused by burns and other traumatic injuries. These treatments are designed to reduce stiffness and reduce the appearance of scars. Typically patients need four or more laser treatments, with several weeks between each one. They go home the same day as treatment and use medication to manage any discomfort.
Dr. Kemalyan says specialists in other burn centers across the country have been using this technology with good results for several years. “Most patients reported their scars were improved; they’re more flexible, flatter and smoother with less itchiness.”
The pulsed dye laser goes through the skin — without breaking it — to destroy tiny blood vessels near the surface of the scar. This causes the scar to shrink, become less red, and less itchy. The fractional CO2 laser therapy, is used to treat older scars. It is designed to reduce feelings of tightness and to improve the appearance of the scar. This laser removes a very thin layer of tissue from the surface of the skin without removing deeper layers.
“I encourage burn patients to get the laser treatment,” says Janelle. “The tightness, pain, itchiness, and sunburn feeling have completely gone away.” Janelle says her scars are greatly reduced. Before the fire, she was an outdoors person who enjoyed fishing, camping, and gardening. She’s hoping to regain more functionality in her hands with the remaining treatments.
Janelle says it was the support of her grandchildren, husband and family that helped her healing. “They are my world. Things can be replaced but they can’t.”
Since Janelle, more than 37 patients have received laser treatment at Legacy Emanuel. Drs. Kemalyan, Thakar (plastic surgeon), and Eshraghi (burn surgeon) are trained and certified in laser treatment therapy.
For more information on Legacy Emanuel’s Laser Therapy treatments, go to http://bit.ly/2kGXHkt. Photos: Courtesy of Janelle Roha. The first photo is before Janelle's laser treatment and the second one was taken after several laser treatments. For more information, contact Vicki Guinn, Legacy Emanuel public relations, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-413-2939