Healing burn victim?s scars ? emotional and physical

News,Karl B. Hille

Scarred by a fire, Crystal Murray used to hide her face from the other kids whenever she could. Withdrawn and self-conscious, she would eat lunch in the guidance counselor?s office at school.

Multiple surgeries rebuilt much of her face and scalp, scarred by a house fire when she was 3 months old.

Even so, she recalled: "I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was really a shy person. I didn?t feel like I fit in to any groups in school."

Then, in 2005, burn reconstruction specialist Dr. Robert Spence referred her to Angel Faces ? a retreat in California for girls with facial differences, from scars to birth defects.

"I realized I?m not the only one who looks different," said Crystal, now 17. "I had friends. I heard other people?s stories."

Her family and friends saw the difference.

"She came back andthat year she made the popularity list at school," said her grandmother, Barbara Porter.

"It was a big change in her attitude. She was a different person," said grandfather Curtis Porter.

Spence also found money to cover the camp, from the Baltimore Metropolitan Fire Fighters Fund.

Spence recently became director of the new National Burn Reconstruction Center at Good Samaritan Hospital, which does more than help people recover from the physiological effects of burns. Crystal receives psychological and therapeutic care coordinated by the center, even though she lives in Conowingo on the Eastern Shore.

"A lot of times, when people are burned, it?s not just a matter of taking care of the physical scars. You have to deal with the emotional issues," Spence said. "When a person gets badly burned, it changes their life forever. If you just let go of them, they?ll end up doing what Crystal almost did, withdrawing from society."

When someone goes to an acute burn unit, immediately after a fire, the cosmetologists, therapists, psychologists and other specialists are there with the patient, Spence said.

Because his patients come from all over the country and go home after surgery, Spence works with a program coordinator to follow through to make sure they get those services.

"We try to employ the same team concept once they?ve recovered from the burn," he said.

Now that Crystal believes she can handle the stares and the awkward questions from classmates, she wants to study psychology, to help other burn victims.

"I want to give other people who have been burned a little bit of hope," she said.

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