Emotional support vital during long recovery

Burn victim Joena Shivani has had nine operations since her accident last year but the recovery process is still far from over. Talking to support groups and other burn survivors has helped her deal with the trauma as well as the isolation that many
Burn victim Joena Shivani has had nine operations since her accident last year but the recovery process is still far from over. Talking to support groups and other burn survivors has helped her deal with the trauma as well as the isolation that many victims feel.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

A woman caught in a fiery accident last year recovered with the help of donor skin, a biosynthetic wound dressing and skin from her own body.

Ms Joena Shivani, 38, who had burns on 60 per cent of her body, was at a temple in January last year when her sari caught fire from an oil lamp. "It was immediate. The flames just shot up. I could feel a burning sensation," she said.

She tore off her flaming clothes but only her face and chest were spared. The welfare assistant had nine operations in three weeks, spent about two months in hospital and wore up to 20kg of bandages at one time. Sometimes she fell sick after people visited her. She said: "Without skin donors, it's hard to heal because of infections."

Besides learning how to walk again after her first month in hospital, she had to wear pressure garments to keep the skin from tearing. Her calorie intake was raised on doctor's orders as her skin needed nutrients to regrow, she said.

Over a year later, she is still undergoing the long recovery process burn victims face. "When people see burn survivors, they say we're okay as we're walking, we've recovered," she said. But the process extends well past the hospital stay.

Being introduced to the local Burns Support Group and seeing other survivors spurred her on. They assured her that, with proper care, her skin would look normal again in the long run.

Entrepreneur Jason Lim, 26, hopes to help patients with trauma and reach out to burn patients by sharing his story online. He too is a burn survivor. He was hospitalised for 44 days in 2014, after a road accident in Cambodia scorched about 20 per cent of his body, including his thighs, elbows and stomach.

"I didn't have trauma, but I know how it feels waking up in a hospital and having your life change," said Mr Lim, whose last memory before the accident was of cruising on a bike in Phnom Penh one night. He found himself in Singapore General Hospital a month later, with metal bars in his legs and burn marks on his body.

He said: "It's frustrating, and it's lonely. I felt no one could understand what I was going through. With support groups, you don't feel alone anymore. That itself brings so much healing psychologically."

•Watch Jason Lim's story here: http://www.jasonyolt.com/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Emotional support vital during long recovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe