Harlem Hospital Unit Specializes In Burn Victims Of Color
Black Americans make up 13 percent of the nation's population, yet they make up 22 percent of burn victims. A specialized burn unit in Harlem Hospital is working to reduce severe scarring in people of color. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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Just over two years ago, Jasmine Hudgens, 27, was rushed to Harlem Hospital Center after being trapped in a house fire where she suffered burns over more than 60 percent of her body.
"I remember just being hot, that's all. And just trying to breathe," she says.
As nearly 100 percent of the patients Harlem Hospital sees are black or Hispanic, its burn unit has become specialized in treating burn victims of color. Healing in people of color is a different process than in whites, and scarring can be a lot more severe.
"There are several issues. One is the development of hypertrophic scars and keloids, which are thick scars that can be quite deforming and can cause a lot of pain," says Dr. Ferdinand Ofodile, Harlem Hospital's director of plastic surgery. "The other thing is color changes. When a black person heals, s/he heals by getting darker pigmentation, or getting lighter, or losing the color altogether -- the patch is white."
For the best possible outcomes when treating burn victims, doctors say timing is always of the essence. That is especially crucial for patients of color.
"A lot of it isn't so much about the actual wound care, but the decision-making process in when to graft the patients. Not to let a wound take too long to heal," says Dr. Aviva Preminger of the Harlem Hospital Center.
Doctors say there is still a lot of research needed to understand why such differences exist in wound healing for people of color. Some say there is a genetic component or it may have something to do with the way pigment-producing cells in the skin function.
Hudgens still has pain in her legs and has more procedures ahead to increase hand function due to scarring. She says it is not just the healing she credits her doctors for, but also getting her life back.