Burn Unit: The only one in Mindanao

THE burn unit of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), now the biggest in the country, is a brainchild of Dr. Rizal Aportadera who was himself a burn survivor. It was established in 1989 as a part of SPMC Surgery Department as it served as burn dressing center at that time.

At that time, the unit had only three rooms with a bed capacity of nine.

In 1990, Hipolita Olivares, a registered midwife, became the first and only regular nurse at the burn unit. She only got co-worker in 1995 when she requested for one as the volume of burn patients was growing.

Dr. Aportadera, popularly known as Doc Apo, made the burn unit into what it is today -- a separate unit from the surgery department because, according to him, "burn treatment requires that patients be confined in a separate special unit of the hospital to reduce the potential for burn patients getting infected."

Thus, in year 2000, the burn unit was born. Today, it has a 22-bed capacity and a dedicated ICU room.

The Mindanao's one and only burn unit is also the first to acquire a Hubbard Tub for washing burn patients. This pure stainless tub is from Doc Apo's foreigner patient whom he treated at the Brokenshire Memorial Hospital a long time ago. Instead of billing for cash, Doc Apo asked for a Hubbard Tub instead, which he donated to the burn unit.

This tub is used to wash burn patients. Equipped with a pulley, the tub makes it easier for both patient and nurse. Also, the tub limits physical contact with the patient, which can be very painful.

While the unit receives only a limited funding from the government, Doc Apo scours for partners or sponsors, especially for indigent patients.

"Luckily a group of nurses from the UK, headed by Dolores Saniel, extended their hand to help the biggest burn unit in the Philippines.

Saniel's group donates every now and then several expensive equipment and necessities for burn unit patients," Olivares said.

One of their donations, which is very important for burn patients and can be expensive, is the hydrocolloid dressing and bandage. A 20 x 20 cm piece is priced at approximately P1,000.

A hydrocolloid dressing is a wafer-type bandage that contains gel-forming agents in an adhesive compound laminated onto a flexible, water-resistant outer layer.

Imagine if the patient acquired a burn from hips downward, how many hydrocolloid dressings would he need? Based on Doc Apo's experience, a severe burn patient has to spend between P5,000 to P8,000 per dressing.

Maharlika Foundation, in partnership with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, is one of the regular sponsors of indigent patients at the burn unit. Maharlika was founded by Doc Apo in 1970 to give free medical operations to indigent patients. Aside from these, there are individuals and groups who donate food and other necessities for the patients as well.

Merco's Centing annual bloodletting activity, set up in memory of Vicente Ferrazzini, allocates bags of blood to the unit.

Currently, the burn unit still needs many materials that are vital in the treatment of patients like the skin blade, surgical stapler and skin carrier which are very difficult to acquire since there is but a limited number of distributors for these, not to mention their steep prices.

"Today, our burn unit caters to an average of 300 patients annually," Olivares said.

The longest stay of a patient at the burn unit, as far as Olivares can remember, was for more than two years.

Currently, one of the ongoing plans of the hospital is to construct a separate building for the burn unit.