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Aug 31, 2012 9:33 PM by Erika Flores

UAMC making history with burn program

TUCSON- UAMC is making history.

A burn program is treating more patients here in Pima County instead of flying them to a burn unit in Phoenix.

The program started this month and the hospital team is excited. So are former burn patients.

Whitney Alderson is still recovering, but she's doing really well. She's also excited to hear that there's a new burn program right here in Tucson.

More than 50 percent of Alderson's body was burned almost two years ago.

"I truly thought I was going to die," said Alderson. "The worst part I can remember was the smell."

She lost skin on her arms, legs, stomach, even part of her face and her hair were burned off.

"My arm was third as well as my side was third," said Alderson.

It all happened at a rodeo completion.

Whitney and her cousin were inside her horse trailer when the trailer exploded.

"I had cadaver skin on for five days," said Alderson.

She was flown to Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center for treatment.

"The scariest thing that I've probably ever gone through is getting in a helicopter and having to let go of the people that I love the most and not knowing if I was going to see them again," said Alderson.

Her father Gordi Alderson said it was a terrifying ordeal.

"Three days later she was in a drug induced coma basically fighting for her life," said Gordi.

Her family, from Marana, stayed in Phoenix for three weeks in an RV.

For several days, they tried to commute to work.

"But I really didn't get anything done because my mind and my heart and all my thoughts were up there and as soon as I left, I was horrified that something terrified was going to happen," said Gordi.

Without a burn unit in Tucson, many families have gone through this anguish, but with UAMC's new burn program, they hope to cut the amount of people who they fly to the burn unit in Phoenix.

"We may be the first state in the country to be able to regionalize and coordinate care within the state," said Dr. Peter Rhee.

Dr. Rhee said about 200 burn patients a year are flown to Phoenix for care, but with this program, they will be able to treat most of them here.

"We're intending on keeping patients who are 40 percent burns body surface area and below which is about 90 to 95 percent of all burns," said Dr. Rhee.

Patients with burns on more than 50 percent of their body will still be referred to the Burn Center at the Maricopa Medical Center, but as the UAMC burn program expands their resources, they will be treating even more burn patients.

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