BURN SCARS AND PREGNANCIES

As a burn survivor, and knowing other burn survivors, I’ve found that we have different experiences with certain things than other people due to our burn injury. One of these include pregnancies.

I was lucky enough to get internationally-recognized motivational speaker, authour, entrepreneur and burn survivor Kelly Falardeau to answer a couple questions about how it’s like to be pregnant and have burn scars.

1. Can you tell me about yourself

At two-years-old, over 75% of my body was burned and I constantly faced rejection, teasing and staring throughout my teenage years. My label was “the ugly scar-faced girl,” but not anymore. I’ve proven you can overcome pain and struggle to become a successful single mom with kids and career. Typically I speak to women about going from near-death to success, but recently I’ve been doing more work with teenagers. Together with Martin Presse we wrote a book entitled 1000 Tips for Teenagers, which just made the best seller list in November.

In addition to receiving the Diamond Jubilee Medal this fall, I received the People’s Choice Award from the Every Woman Model Search Competition, was named on the list of 10 Most Influential Speakers in 2011 and was the recipient of the Fierce Woman of the Year Award in 2010. At the age of 2,1 and again at 32, I was elected as President of the Alberta Burn Rehabilitation Society, an organization which provides support and assistance to burn survivors, their families, friends and interested Albertans.

Kelly speaking at the Canadian Burn Survivors 2012 Conference in CalgaryKelly collage

I’ll be going to Nairobi, Kenya to speak at the schools and for a burn survivor conference which has been a dream of mine forever.

2. At this year’s Canadian Burn Survivors conference you were one of the speakers and you had mentioned that you had concerns about having burns scars and getting pregnant. Can you describe some of those worries.

I’ve been pregnant three times. The first time I got pregnant was with my daughter Alexanna, the second time was a stillborn – a girl we named Aleisha – and the third time I was pregnant with twin boys, Cody and Parker. With each pregnancy we had different concerns, but always worried about my scars, especially when I was pregnant with the twins.

The first concern was whether I could, or should, get pregnant. Throughout my whole life, I believed that my scars would hold me back from getting pregnant. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true. I felt that as a burn survivor I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. I didn’t understand how babies were exactly made, but I blamed any problem I had on my burns. It wasn’t until I met another burn survivor at the World Burn Congress and she told me that she had two kids herself and that I to could have kids. Her scars were in the same places as mine. She also pointed out another burn survivor who was there and she had prosthetic arms and she was able to have kids also. Seeing two other burn survivors who had scars in the same places as me allowed me to realize that I could have kids as a burn survivor.

The second concern was whether my skin would stretch enough. When I first got pregnant, that was the first question, and if they didn’t stretch would it harm the baby? I went and visited my plastic surgeon at the time and he said we’ll just play it by ear and see what happens. If we have to do some surgery on you then we will, but let’s not rush into anything at this time until we need to. Every day I put cream on my belly (I didn’t use anything specific like Vitamin E or Aloe Vera, whatever I had on hand) and my tummy did stretch enough. My scars completely cover my chest down past my belly button and all the way around to the middle of my back plus both of my arms and face and a little bit on my legs. The good thing is that I do have some natural skin on my belly as I was wearing a wet diaper when I got burnt at two years old.

With Alexanna being my first pregnancy we were definitely worried about my scars and didn’t know what to expect. When I was pregnant with my second baby, who ended up being a stillborn, we were more confident that I would be ok with my scars stretching. When I got pregnant the third time and found out we were having twins, that was when we were extremely concerned about my scars. Especially since I was gaining all the weight in my tummy. The twins were taking everything out of me and I had to eat incredible amounts of food to keep them growing. The good thing was that I was having ultrasounds every two weeks, and then every week during the last month. We knew the twins were growing and in fact they were getting fairly big for twins. At one point I even lost weight because I wasn’t eating enough.

Photos provided by Kelly of when she was pregnant

Kelly pregnant 1

Kelly pregnant 2

Eventually, my scars were so tight that they couldn’t stretch any more and they did start splitting and bleeding. They were like tiny paper cuts. At that point, my doctor did an amniocentesis to decide if the twin’s lungs were developed enough and whether I could be induced or not. At about 29-weeks I thought my water had broke, so I went into the hospital and they had given me some steroids to help develop the twin’s lungs, so there was a real good chance that the twins’ lungs were developed enough. We found out that yes, their lungs were developed and I could be induced. I was very happy because I had gained about 50 pounds all in my belly and nowhere else. My belly was constantly moving and the twins were very active. At 36 weeks, I just couldn’t walk any more, I was so exhausted and was tired of the pain from my scars being so tight so my doctor induced me. I had the twins 30-hours later. Cody was 6 pounds 11 ounces and Parker was 6 pounds 7 ounces. They were big twins, especially for my size as I’m only 5’3”.

The second concern we had when I got pregnant the first time was whether my nipple was a functioning one. My one breast doesn’t have a nipple at all, but my other one has a partial nipple and is pretty tiny. We weren’t sure if it could function as a nipple even though I had no intentions of breastfeeding. A few days after I had Alex, I could feel some wetness and sure enough when I looked down I could see a wet spot around my nipple and realized that yes, I did have a functioning nipple. My breasts did produce milk and I did get engorged, but because I wasn’t breastfeeding eventually I just dried up and was fine after a couple weeks. I didn’t take any medication for the engorgement.

I do have a funny story though –  when I went into the hospital at 29 weeks because I thought the twins’ water had broke, the peri-natal doctor came to see me and he was trying to convince me that I should breastfeed the twins. I told him he was crazy to even suggest that as I had two babies to feed with only one partial nipple!!! As far as I was concerned breastfeeding wasn’t an option no matter what he said! He kept telling me I should consider it and I kept saying no, it isn’t an option – two babies and one partial nipple means I’ll have starving babies. The nurse even said to me that I shouldn’t consider it because where is the milk going to go in the breast that has no nipple? I could end up with some serious medical complications. But, I have heard of some women breastfeeding with one nipple, so if you are considering breastfeeding and you’re missing a nipple, please check more into it. For me, I didn’t consider it an option. I wanted other people to be able to feed the twins so I could get some rest.

How is it like being pregnant and having burn scars?

To me it is no different being pregnant other than you have to watch your scars and put lots of cream on them to keep them moist. When you’re in pain, make sure you talk to your doctor.  My doctor knew my scars were bothering me and causing extreme tightness. I will never forget once I finally had the twins and the nurses asked me how I felt and I said I felt fantastic, I’m not hurting any more and that was true. The indigestion went away instantly and my tummy didn’t hurt any more.

Did you find it very different from other experiences of women you knew who didn’t have burn scars?

The only difference is that the non-burn survivors don’t have to worry about whether their skin will stretch enough. I still had to go through all the other medical testing that any other pregnant woman would have to go through.

What type of advice would you give burn survivors who are wanting to get pregnant, but are hesitant because of their burns.

I would suggest that they find other burn survivors who have been pregnant and talk to them. That is the beauty of the internet – there is always someone who has been through what we have. Other burn survivors have called me and asked what I did and what they should be concerned about. The doctors don’t always have the answers, but the survivors can help you with some other answers the doctors don’t have.

Here are also some Facebook comments that other burn survivors were so gracious enough to let me share:

burn pregnancy screenshot

I would like to thank Kelly again for sharing this information.

To learn more about Kelly, visit her website at: www.KellyFalardeau.com

AFTER THE COCOON LIVES ONWARD

So what happens after I complete my website launch?

Well it continues OnWard … at the OnWard Gallery that is.

Last week it was confirmed that I’ll have the space, which is located on the 3rd floor of my college, the Monday after my website launch (February 9, 2013) for a week.

Some photographs of the gallery

OnWard Gallery

OnWard Gallery inside

I’m super excited because it’ll be an opportunity for more people to check out the photographs that I’ve done for my project, especially if they can’t make my launch. As well, it can help raise awareness about burn survivor support systems.

Here are more details:

What: photographs of the burn survivors that participated in my project

Where: OnWard Gallery
3rd floor – 160 Princess St.
Red River College – The Roblin Centre

When: Monday, February 11 – Friday,  February 15, 2013

For more information, contact me here.

BURN SCARS AND MASSAGE THERAPY

As a burn survivor, and knowing other burn survivors, I’ve found that we have different experiences with certain things than other people due to our burn injury. One of these include massage therapy.

I was lucky enough to get my classmate and fellow PR major Amy Tuckett , who is also a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), to answer a couple questions about how it’s like to massage someone with burn scars.

The lovely Amy. Photo taken by Terry Proveda

bwamy

Here’s our Q and A:

1. Can you tell me a little about your massaging career i.e. how long have you been massaging, what’re your credentials etc.

I’ve been a massage therapist since March 2005. I’m currently a member of the Massage Therapy Association of Manitoba and have worked at both Intrinsic Massage Therapy and Healthview Therapy Centre, which is a multi-disciplinary clinic that has everything from Chiropractic Treatments to Physiotherapy.

2. Can you tell me about your experience with massaging a burned person

In my Advance Treatments class at the Massage Therapy College of Manitoba, I learned treatments for burns and scars. After all the acute healing has passed, I’m able to work on scars, whether they are from burns or otherwise. Depending on the severity, it may not be realistic for the scar to completely disappear, though we do have several goals of treatment:

  •  To breakdown the collagen fibers, which are often laid down in an unorganized and random manner. Massage therapy uses techniques which try and realign the fibers, which can also provide increased elasticity (collagen fibers are not flexible).
  • To breakdown adhesions of underlying tissue. Often tissues can surrounding the scar become adhesed and/spasmed and the immobility can result in increased pain. As RMT’s often have advanced palpation skills, we can feel the adhesions and break down the adhesions below and around the surface of the burn.
  • To reduce redness and elevation of the scars. The optimal goal is for a scar to be light coloured, flexible and flat. Scars can also have some residual edema (swelling) as well as itching. Both of these things can be helped with a massage treatment.

3. Is it much different than massaging normal skin? What’s different and what kind of things do you have to consider?

Working on scar tissue is MUCH different than working on normal skin, and it is important to go to a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) who has working knowledge of treating scars. As I mentioned before, there’s less flexibility and it’s important that the scar is healed enough to be worked on, so that no tearing occurs.

I’ve worked on several different types of scars throughout my career as a RMT. I’ve worked on small incision scars from surgeries, to burns and other issues. One of the most rewarding and life-altering experiences from my career came from working with someone who had a case of Necrotizing Fascitis on their torso. A large portion of his torso (over 60%) had skin grafts, and he was extremely lucky to have made it out alive. Prior to his treatment, I’d never worked on such a big area – and it was amazing to see what a body can handle and still make it through. He had a great attitude, and spoke extremely highly of the quick medical interventions it took to save his life.
He wasn’t  from Winnipeg, but had lots of massages prior to seeing to me that dealt specifically with scar rehabilitation. His scars had quite a bit of flexibility and were healing well – he credited it to massage therapy.
I’ve worked on some burns, largely older ones, which can be harder to affect change – though change can still happen. If you are a survivor and your burns are over 2 years old, I really recommend seeing a Massage Therapist to see how they can help. It often takes multiple treatments, and best used in coordination with other healthcare practitioners.

A special thank you again to Amy for all this useful information!

THE HALFWAY POINT … ALMOST

Today, I was going to submit the entire first draft of my website with my completed stories and photographs to my project advisor. By Wednesday I was on my 8th story out of my total 10. I was feeling good, had worked really hard for months on my project and was confident that I’d get it all done before today’s deadline.

And then late that night my computer wouldn’t go past the log in screen.

I had been converting a pdf into a jpeg when my computer kept on freezing on me. Because I  wanted to go to bed soon, I decided to force quit my laptop. Big mistake. Despite many attempts to reload my computer, nothing worked. The following day I went to my computer’s provider to see if I could get it fixed. Three hours later my computer was working again, but I had to get a new hard drive. Luckily, I had backed up most of my files so it wasn’t the end of the world, but it meant losing a chunk of time that I could’ve been using to finish up my project and having to reinstall a bunch of stuff.

My new desktop . . . oh so empty

So at this point I’ve finished 7 stories (with photographs) completely. The other three are written, but need to get the photography portion done. So when does everyone get to see all of this? Well, that’s the second half of my project. In early February I’ll be doing a website launch so now I’ll be focusing on that.

I may not be where I wanted to be with my project at this point because of the minor set back, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned from this project it’s that life happens when you’re busy making plans.

REMEMBERING REMEMBRANCE DAY BY REMEMBERING MY GRANDPA

Before last year I never had a personal connection to Remembrance Day because I wasn’t born in Canada and I didn’t have anyone in my family that was affected by war.

Or so I thought.

For a journalism assignment for my program we had to write a Remembrance Day story. I decided to talk to my Lolo (Lolo means Grandpa in Tagalog, my native language) about his perspective of the war. Little did I know that if the war hadn’t happened, he might not have become a doctor. Shortly after I did that assignment my Lolo passed away.

Remembrance Day was kind of hard this year because it made me think of him, but it also reminded me of how amazing of a person he was. My Lolo was a very humble man and never spoke about how generous he was. This included paying for my hospital bills when I had my burn injury. So during Remembrance Day, I remembered my Lolo who helped saved my life.

A photo of me and my Grandpa when I was four

If you’re interested here’s the article I wrote, which I also read out during my eulogy for him:

How my Grandpa Accidentally Became a Doctor

For my grandpa, Dominador Navarro, he said becoming a doctor was “accidental.” Instead, all he could think about growing up was surviving.

“If you’re lucky and you survive, you can go to school – if you’re not a casualty of war,” he said.

My grandpa, who I call “Lolo Doming,” was too young to fight in the Second World War. Lolo Doming was 14-years-old when the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines in 1941.

As I sit and listen to my Lolo’s words, I hear the history of conflict of the Philippines. As he speaks Tagalog, the Filipino language, and rolls his “r’s,” I think of the influence of the Spanish who conquered the Philippines for over 300 years. And when he switches to almost-perfect English, it reminds me of the legacy of the Americans who freed the Philippines from the Japanese occupation.

Before the war, my Lolo’s sister, who was a nurse, joked he should be a doctor so they could be coworkers. Instead, my Lolo had dreams of becoming an engineer.

“There weren’t very many of them at the time and I thought the construction of buildings was interesting,” he said.

But the war shut down that dream along with everything else.

“Everything stopped functioning . . . factories . . . schools,” said my Lolo, “There wasn’t even any of that,” as he points at the paper I’m writing on.

Because there weren’t any schools, many teachers went looking for other jobs. For the last three years of the war my Lolo couldn’t continue his studies. With nothing to do, at 16-years-old he worked as a conductor taking tickets for the Japanese-operated buses.

“It was the only open job – all I could think of was to just get a job. I just wanted to pass by the time,” he said.

For two years my Lolo worked there until the Americans gave the Philippines independence in 1946. With the Japanese-operated buses shut down and everything being rebuilt, my Lolo was able to return to his studies. But even with peacetime, there were very few schools open.

“They had to repair the buildings, the tables, the chairs . . . everything,” he said.

Remembering his sister’s suggestion, he applied for medical school because it was one of the few colleges open.

“I thought I’d just give it a try and see if I’d make it.”

My Lolo’s career included working as a municipal physician and then having his own private practice. In the 1980s he worked for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines and became a pioneer in reproductive rights in a highly conservative Catholic country.

Even though becoming a doctor was not my Lolo’s original plan, he’s happy with his decision. This influenced six of his nine children and my brother to become nurses. After 40 years as a doctor he retired in 1992 in Winnipeg, where most of his children were able to easily immigrate to because of the high demand for nurses.

“If you’re interested in the job, you’re happy. It [being a doctor] was interesting and adventurous. I went to different areas and you get to meet all kinds of people and encounter many sides of life: rich and poor,” he said.

“You have to work in order to live.”

BLOOD DONATION

***Please note: this post is neither to advocate for or against blood donation or any type of bodily donation. These opinions are mine alone.

For an upcoming school project, we’re doing a radiothon for Canadian Blood Services. When we were discussing this project in class, the question of whether anyone has donated blood, or if anyone has been a recipient of a blood donation, came up. Although I’m a recipient of a blood donation, I was hesitant to put my hand up. This is because I don’t remember receiving the donation, which I got because of my burn injury.

Part of the reason why I did this project in the first place was because there’s so much mystery behind my burn injury. Since I was so young (nine-months-old), and because all I’ve ever really known is being a burn survivor, I didn’t really question the details behind my burn injury. But since so much time has past, a lot of those details are lost and most of the evidence that’s left behind are my scars. These include the scars from my blood transfusions.

One of my blood transfusion scars

Because I was so little, they had to use the veins on my ankles to do the procedure and on both my ankles I still have scars from my attempted and successful transfusions. I say attempted because my first two blood transfusions failed. This is because my body rejected them so badly that I got allergic reactions from them. Luckily, the last attempt was successful.

When I think of the basics of donation, I think about how selfless it can be. I don’t know who was the person/people that gave me my blood donations and I’m guessing most people don’t. Another thing I think about is how doing this project has given me a greater appreciation for the health care professionals and other support systems.

So with that said, I’d like to put it out in the universe and thank those who gave me my blood donations that saved my life and also to all the medical staff that attended to me.

If you have a donation story related to your burn injury I’m interested to hear it. Leave a comment on this blog, on the official Facebook page or Tweet me.

MAMINGWEY BURN SURVIVORS CONFERENCE 2012

This past weekend was pretty hectic for me.

Not only did I attend the Mamingwey Burn Survivors Conference, but I accepted a scholarship, spoke about this project, was on a panel and was in their fashion show. Yup, it was definitely a busy day.

Because of everything I was doing, I wasn’t able to take too many of my own photos. Luckily, I had the help of multiple people including my good friend/talented photographer Stephen Burton (he also took the photos of me for my project).

Here are some of the photos from the conference:

Keynote speaker and burn survivor James Bosch led us through a finger painting exercise and here’s what I came up with

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton] Speaking about my project

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton]

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton] Speaking on the conference panel (Adults burned as children)

I’m so grateful for all the other burn survivor support organizations I’ve come across, but Mamingwey is particularly near and dear to my heart. Not only are they in my home province, but they have been incredibly supportive of my project and I hope to keep my connection to them even after the project.

To learn more about Mamingwey or to donate to the organization here are their links:
Website
Facebook