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Billy’s Story – Hair Straightener Burn

Hair Straightener Injury

In the last two years the incidence of children attending a specialist burns service with a hair straightener burn has increased by 20%. In the hands of a young child hair straighteners can cause a deep burn that requires surgery and ongoing scar management for many years. Debbie recounts the day that her son Billy picked up the hair straighteners in her bedroom.  

Saturday 6th March 2021, our little boy, Billy was 14 months old, a total whirlwind and the most loved little brother. He was full of beans, into anything and everything, and bright as a button. He loved anything that moved, be it cars planes or trains, and he also loved bright lights and loud sounds.

Whilst we were upstairs getting ready for the day, I turned my back for a split second, and turned to see Billy holding onto my hair straighteners, stood frozen on the spot. He had seen the flashing light that meant they were switched on and gripped hold of one side of the iron in his tiny right hand, with the other iron making contact with the skin on the back of his hand. He didn’t make a sound and stood very still and silent with his eyes wide and I have never felt panic and fear like it. I grabbed the straightener out of his hand, scooped him up and ran into the bathroom to put his hand under the cold tap. At this point the realisation kicked in and Billy started to cry, and we all started to panic.

I still can’t believe we didn’t know the most basic First Aid. I can’t believe this was my third baby and we still didn’t really know what to do. A message I would give to all parents is to be aware of the correct first aid in the event of an accident, it really does make all the difference.

We ran the water over his hand for a few minutes, gave him Calpol, wrapped his hand in cling film, ran to the car and drove a hysterical 5 minute journey to our nearest hospital, Royal Preston.

On arrival the triage team didn’t even ask his name, I told them he had burnt his hand and they ran us straight through to the nearest room with a sink and held him under the cold running water. It was only at this point I realised Jonny, my husband, wasn’t with us, due to the Covid-19 restrictions he had been stopped at the door as there was only 1 parent allowed inside the hospital. I really found that so tough to take.

Over the next few hours I spoke to a number of nurses, doctors and a consultant who told me that Billy’s burn was deep and we needed to go to the Burns & Plastics unit at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. He had 3rd degree burns and would need a skin graft.

In Manchester we were treated with the upmost kindness and compassion in what was undoubtedly the most terrifying situation I had ever been in, and hopefully ever will be.  The nurses, doctors, the facilities, the equipment, everything was outstanding, but seeing the cot in the middle of the room with all the wires and machines around it made me well up. This was where the guilt crept in, although it didn’t really creep, it hit me like a wave and it has never left me since. 

Billy needed to have the burn wound washed and cleaned out, so we were taken to what looked like a theatre room; clinical, white and very bright but the staff were amazing, they sang to him, distracted him and did their absolute best to calm him in that environment.

We finally got some sleep and the consultant came to see us in the morning, with consent forms to sign for Billy to have a skin graft the following day. He had to have blood tests which were taken from his feet, and he was declared fit for the surgery. It was a long emotional day of keeping Billy entertained and trying to keep myself together, but we got through it using FaceTime with family and one of the nurses brought us some toys for him to play with.

On Monday 8th March, Billy had his skin graft under general anaesthetic and later that day he was discharged to recover at home. Jonny collected us and we set off home with a bulky bandage and the mammoth task of trying to keep Billy still enough to keep it on! We lasted one night at home and then were back in the hospital on the Tuesday evening as he had wriggled enough to loosen the bandage and needed to go for it to be redressed.

The Burns and Plastics aftercare team were in touch with us, and we had multiple visits throughout the next couple of weeks for dressing changes and progress checks. Billy saw a Physiotherapist and was measured up for a pressure garment glove, which we were told he would need to wear for 23 hours a day for the next 2 years. We were given guidance and help from the aftercare team and we were talked through compression therapy which involved stretching and massaging exercises to ensure he would regain full use of his hand following his injuries. 

Thankfully after around 18 months Billy was signed off from the Burns and Plastic aftercare team, but the effects of his injuries are long-lasting. As a parent, I only wish two things: Firstly that the straighteners were out of his reach so this hadn’t happened at all, but as I can’t change the past my second wish would be that it never happens to any other child or parent.

Sadly, these accidents are totally preventable so I hope by sharing Billy’s story it will save at least one other family going through this horrifying experience. Prevention is so much better than cure.

Burn First Aid:

COOL the burn with cool running water for 20 minutes and remove all clothing and jewellery (unless it is melted or firmly stuck to the wound).

CALL for help for any burn larger than a 50p coin: 999, 111 or local GP for advice.

COVER with cling film or a clean non-fluffy dressing or cloth. Make sure the patient is kept warm.


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