Burn fund’s $2-M donation ‘will make a difference for all time’ at HSC

It is a $2-million gift that everyone involved hopes will keep on giving burn patients a better chance to resume normal lives.

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This article was published 05/12/2018 (1402 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is a $2-million gift that everyone involved hopes will keep on giving burn patients a better chance to resume normal lives.

Income earned by the endowment to the Health Sciences Centre Foundation from the Firefighters’ Burn Fund unveiled Wednesday in Winnipeg will fund dedicated, innovative research into the use of stem cells to reduce the number of painful surgeries and speed healing in burn patients.

The new HSC research lab, staffed with a dedicated researcher and specialized equipment, may be the first of its kind in Canada to operate on an ongoing basis, when it opens sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, officials said.

“This gift is transformational,” said Jonathon Lyon, foundation president and chief executive officer. “The Burn Fund has been a long-time supporter of the hospital and the foundation. Manitoba’s firefighters care deeply about the well-being of burn survivors, and their contributions have changed people’s lives.

“With this endowed gift, the Burn Fund will make a difference for all time.”

Attending Wednesday’s announcement, burn survivor John Hart could only wonder what could be, and what such advancements could have meant for him.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS John Hart is a burn survivor who lost both his right arm and leg and suffered third degree burns to 40 per cent of his body.

“This research will help survivors,” said the 61-year-old, who suffered third-degree burns to 40 per cent of his body in a workplace accident at a northern Manitoba Hydro site 24 years ago.

A jolt of electricity of some 138,000 volts travelled through his right hand and through his body, exiting through his right foot and igniting his clothes on fire, he recalled. His right arm from the elbow down and right leg from the knee down were amputated to save his life.

He spent three months enduring painful burn baths and dozens of surgeries, but “gets around pretty well… From the bottom of my heart, I am truly thankful,” Hart said.

“If this treatment could have worked for me, maybe my limbs would be a little different now.”

Wednesday’s event was also packed with firefighters, active and retired, who have spent years raising money for the Burn Fund and distributing donations to hospitals and survivors in Manitoba.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Martin Johnson, Chairman of the Firefighters' Burn Fund.

“We’ve raised and distributed many millions of dollars over the past 40 years… but we also recognize it’s important to keep up to date with ever changing practices for burn care,” fund chairman Martin Johnson said. “I believe we are having an impact, and it feels good.”

About 100 patients are admitted to the HSC burn unit every year, and dozens more are treated on an outpatient basis.

The new lab will seek to engineer stem cells from the fat cells of burn patients and integrate them into skin grafts to be surgically implanted.

“We’re hoping that any patient with a significant burn… will have a better result if we incorporate the research we’re going to get from this research lab,” said Dr. Edward Buchel, HSC director of surgery and section head of plastic surgery.

“No one else is doing it on an ongoing basis right now… Not in Canada.”

On a financial front, the HSC foundation intends to use the endowment income as seed money to attract matching grants. It’s a departure, as research funding traditionally relies on external granting agencies that release money on an annual or multi-year basis but not permanently.

With such stability, the hospital will hire a dedicated researcher to tease out and perfect the technique, along with the equipment and materials to take it from the lab bench to the operating table without interruption.

Research strides in burn treatments have boosted the odds of survival to nearly 100 per cent in patients with third-degree burns to 50 per cent of their bodies over the last half-century, but stem cell-based surgery offers a new frontier, advocates said.

“We can keep people alive. We can get them out of hospital. But the question is how badly disfigured are they going to be, and to what capacity are they going to be able to regain their normal function,” Buchel said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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