Boy continues road to recovery after flash burn from furnace

·9 min read

Eganville – A young man who suffered severe burns in mid-September is back home on the farm and continuing his physiotherapy to ensure his extensive skin grafts have the best chance of healing.

“He is strong and tough and courageous,” Kim Lehman said of her son Wyatt who had extensive burns to his hands, arms, torso and thighs which required skin grafts taken from throughout his body.

Wyatt is 12 years old, and a Grade 7 student at St. James and his journey, which began six weeks ago, is far from over. Even though he has healed very well, he still must wear compression clothing and do daily physio to keep his skin flexible and healthy as he grows.

The pre-teen was helping on the family farm, just south Eganville on the evening of September 16 when the mishap happened.

“We were outside doing chores,” his mom, Kim, explained. “He had gone to stoke the outdoor furnace.”

While she was with the two younger girls, Elizabeth, 9 and Vivien, 6, taking care of the chickens, she heard Wyatt in distress. He had been hit by a blow-back/backdraft from the furnace and when she approached, she saw her child on fire.

“I was running across the lawn, yelling ‘stop, drop, roll’,” she recalls. “My mentality was not life- threatening yet.”

At first she thought she could drive him to Renfrew, which is about 20 minutes away, but she quickly realized she needed to call an ambulance, get someone to help with the younger children and assist Wyatt as best she could. Her husband, Adam, was in Northern Ontario working on construction at a gold mine, so she was alone on the farm with the children.

When she called 911, she asked the operator what she could do to help her son. “She told me to get as cold a water on sterile clothes as I could and put them on the burns,” she said. “That would slow down the degree of burn.” This action was incredibly life-changing for Wyatt for it slowed down the burns and prevented them from being worse. She also placed the cloths in the right order with the cloths on his hands and arms first.

“The doctors at CHEO later told me I saved his hands and arms from getting third degree burns,” she said.

This information about placing the cold sterile cloths on a burn is something she has been sharing with everyone she knows and hopes this practical knowledge will help anyone else who might encounter a similar situation.

When the ambulance arrived because of COVID-19 she was not allowed to go with Wyatt but promised him she would follow in the vehicle. With the two younger girls needing someone to take care of them, she had family and neighbours step in to help stay with the girls and drive her to Ottawa as she was in no state to drive.

“After arriving at CHEO shortly after, I was reintroduced to Wyatt sedated, wrapped and in the best hands I could ask for,” she said.

He was sedated and intubated because they were not sure if he had inhaled flames, but he was conscious his mom was there. And she, or another family member made sure they were always there for the next month. Because of the farm and the younger siblings, the family would take turns being there and Wyatt had four visitors on his approved list, which during COVID-19 was limited drastically. Her parents, George and Kathy Mayhew of Cobden, would alternate days with her to visit their grandson. Meanwhile, her father-in-law and the great uncle, Weldon and Harris Lehman, had travelled north to Wawa to pick up Adam and bring him back.

Skin Grafts and CHEO stay

Wyatt spent a week in ICU and successfully underwent two operations. One was for the removal of the damaged skin on day three, and one to apply skin grafts to those affected areas on day seven. The skin grafts were additional areas of healthy skin removed from his own body. He had grafts to his hands, arms, torso and thighs. The grafts were taken from his shoulders, back, thighs and one calf. There was a lot of area to require healing and this healing will continue for some time.

“The healing process is not just the burns but the donor sites,” Mrs. Lehman said.

Wyatt was admitted to the surgical floor at CHEO and spent three weeks there. Under quarantine not only for his unique injuries, but due to COVID-19 regulations he was only allowed minimal visitation.

His mom said his healing has been wonderful to see. His outer skin is all healed except for one small area.

“He has excelled with the healing of his skin, he is a strong, healthy young man, and along with the care he received at CHEO he was discharged on October 16, exactly four weeks to the day of his admission,” she said. “He is currently at home in Eganville, with his family, on the farm. As he continues to heal, he is practicing and learning to create new lifestyle routines that will aid him in his lifelong road to recovery.”

Road to Recovery

Wyatt still has a long road to recovery.

“Now it is the stretching and physio daily,” she said. “We were told to expect a growth spurt from 12 to 14. He must train his skin to grow with him. And we oil his skin every day.”

He is slated to be in CHEO weekly for appointments with his health care team, which includes his plastic surgeon, occupational therapist and physiotherapist.

“They told us the visits to CHEO will continue for three years and they would have a relationship with him until he is 18 following up,” she said.

After discharge he has been travelling to Renfrew Victoria Hospital two days a week for outpatient physiotherapy, while also receiving at home physiotherapy the remaining days of the week.

“Keeping daily routines of physiotherapy, as they had in place while in CHEO, during these immediate months to follow are Wyatt's best chance toward recovering his full range of mobility during skin graft healing,” she said.

Wyatt must wear compression garments which are custom-made for 23 hours a day. He removes them only to oil his skin, which must be done with specific creams, so the compression garments are not broken down prematurely. While OHIP covers 75 per cent of the cost of the compression garment set, the family still must come up with the rest at $398. He needs two sets every three months as he grows. They are not sure how long he will need these garments but are told it is a minimum of nine months.

The family has also hired an at-home physiotherapist since it is challenging as parents to do the exercises and make sure they are done properly. This is a private cost they are dealing with.

“We needed someone who could push him to do the exercises which are so important,” Mrs. Lehman explained.

Thankful for Support

The family has been blessed by community support from the moment Wyatt received his injuries, his mom said. His aunt, Molley Schoenfeldt started a group on Facebook with information and to help the family with financial donations, gas cards, meals and other needed items. The response was tremendous and just one thing the family did not have to worry about as they went back and forth to Ottawa, dealt with the farm, card for Wyatt and all the family.

“I really appreciated the casseroles and home-made food donations,” Mrs. Lehman said. “I know I have to cook every day to feed the other kids, but sometimes it is just too much.”

She said it was also so special to receive these food items because under other circumstances she is on the giving end. “I’m a big person to drop off casseroles, so now I know how it feels and I am so thankful,” she said.

Active in the local Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), she has done her part in helping the community in her turn, but now her focus is on Wyatt, his recovery and helping all three children have a healthy family life as they deal with his recovery and the uncertainty of COVID-19. When Wyatt was first injured, the family made the decision to keep the girls home from school because they were worried about COVID coming home and any of them being sick and thus not able to visit Wyatt in hospital. Now the girls have returned to St. James and Wyatt is still in the process of learning from home, but that too is a challenge, his mom admitted.

As fall moves into winter, the family is focusing on their “new normal” and there are the ongoing unexpected challenges and expenses like the physiotherapy, trips to CHEO and money for his compression garments. The donations from the community have been a huge help in alleviating financial worries, she said.

“That jar has been a blessing,” she said. “We don’t have to worry.” People have also done practical kind things like Eganville’s Finest and owner Tracey Keller who co-ordinated Thanksgiving dinner for the family to be brought to CHEO. Mrs. Lehman said she knew Ms. Keller also had help in preparing the meal from her neighbour and it was just a wonderful meal and time together for Wyatt and his family.

“Then there was a group of men and it started with the Eganville Fire Department and the Douglas Fire Department and they came to pile our wood,” she recalled. “The man said if we needed anything on the farm, they would help.”

It was a big pyramid of wood and the men had it piled in no time, she said. Ironically, that would have been Wyatt’s job in other years.

There have been many private fundraising efforts and they are so grateful.

“As we continue to feed him good, love and care for him, oil and massage his healing skin multiple times a day, and encourage him to attend to his daily chores and tasks as he sees fit, we thank you for all your help, thoughts and prayers, and assistance to date,” she said. “It is a blessing what everyone has been doing.”

Donations for the Lehman family can be dropped off at 166 Queen Street, Eganville or also at mailbox/porch drop off at 2756 Lake Dore Road, Golden Lake. More information can also be found at the Facebook group “Support the Lehman Family.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader