In Nov. 29 IssueRussell County NewsBy Kim Graham, RCN Reporter
Watching Caleb Farris sitting on his grandma's lap laughing and playing computer games, gives the impression he is a typical 5 year old boy.
At first glance, his rosy cheeks appear to be flushed from the excitement of competition.
Looking closely at Caleb's face, the rosiness is revealed as scars from burns he received nearly 3 months ago.
On August 31, 2008, Caleb suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 15 percent of his body when a child he was playing with threw flaming liquid on him.
Caleb was flown from Russell County Hospital to University of Kentucky Children's Hospital and was transferred from there to Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, OH.
Shriners Hospital specializes in treatment of juvenile burn victims.
"Shriner's Hospital has been so good to us," said Caleb's dad Adam Farris. "You couldn't ask for better people."
Of the month Caleb was in the hospital, 3 weeks were spent on life support.
He had inhaled the fire causing damage and swelling in his airways, so he had to be on a ventilator in order to breath.
"He's still raspy when he talks," said Sandy McGowan. "He whispered for 2 weeks. It's way better but he's still short of breath and has to take breaks from talking."
"Used to, he growled," said Caleb's grandpa, Troy McGowan.
The road to recovery for Caleb is a long one with many obstacles along the way.
Preventing infection and supporting new tissue growth were vital in treating Caleb's wounds.
While in the hospital medical personnel scrubbed and cleaned burns on Caleb's head, chest and arms 3 times a day.
"The good thing about it is he was knocked out during that time," said Adam Farris. "When he came to, they had already done the skin grafts."
The family says Caleb was given medication to keep him sedated while he was on life support.
So far, Caleb has undergone 2 surgeries to graft skin to the burned areas of his body.
"They say he'll look worse before he looks better," said Caleb's grandma, Sandy McGowan. "He has blisters still popping up from the burns and the skin grafts. His hair may or may not grow back in a spot on the back of his head where his hair was burned away."
Doctors at Shriners Hospital removed a thin layer of skin from the young boy's back in beginning at the base of his neck across his shoulders and down to just below his waist line.
Sandy McGowan says that normally grafts are done in strips of skin taken from the legs but since Caleb was so young they used the skin from almost his entire back.
She says doctors told them the grafting process they used should reduce the amount of scarring and heal better than using smaller skin grafts.
Already, the skin on his back has grown back and is mostly healed so that only some areas appear a red similar to sunburn. Over time, his back should completely heal.
Still, Caleb faces many more surgeries until he stops growing probably in his early 20's.
In the meantime, there is much work to be done in assisting the healing process.
"We had to be able to do everything by ourselves at least twice before they'd release us," Adam Farris said.
For many burn survivors, the first year to eighteen months after leaving the hospital can be the most difficult time of recovery.
Caleb's family says they must be vigilant in his physical therapy to prevent abnormalities resulting from the healing process.
"It hurt him and he'd cry but he had to do it," said Sandy McGowan.
With help from his dad and grandparents, Caleb does physical therapy twice daily at home.
"He doesn't have full range of motion yet but it is better," Sandy McGowan said.
He does stretches to help his range of motion in joints and his dad massages his graft scars to keep them as supple as possible. As his grafts heal, the scars draw tight and can cause his skin to pull into physical deformities.
At Shriners Hospital, they were shown pictures of children whose chins were permanently drawn to their chest because they did not continue physical therapy once they were home.
The family is committed to adjusting to Caleb's new limitations and routines to support his full recovery.
They make sure that Caleb wears his compression suit the required 23 hours a day and a neck collar 24 hours a day. He only takes off the compression suit for his bath.
The specially fitted suite helps the healing process and keeps the scarring down while the neck collar keeps his head in place and helps the grafts on his neck to heal.
"His posture in excellent," said Sandy McGowan. "Future grafts will determine the amount of time he has to continue wearing the collar and pressure suit."
Burn care however, does not stop with physical healing and therapy.
Caleb also receives psychological therapy once a week at his home to help with the emotional scars of the trauma he has experienced.
His family says he used to hallucinate, seeing things that weren't there or seeing danger in objects that posed no danger. Sandy McDowell says at home he does pretty well because he feels safe but he stays close to his dad when he is out in public.
"It was replaying in his mind so bad, he was afraid," said Adam Farris. "There for the longest time, anytime he saw red he associated that with fire so he couldn't be around the color red."
The whole family has been affected by the events of that August day.
Caleb's 7 year old sister, Courtney saw everything on the day Caleb was burned. She is also in counseling to help her cope with the trauma.
"I worry about his sister," said Sandy McGowan. "She remembers his screams."
His mischievous grin and the light in his eyes show an inner spirit that has brought the young boy through this tragic event.
"I'm real tough," Caleb said.
Caleb's strength, the skill and expertise of Shriners Hospital doctors and the support of his family continue to see him through his recovery process.
"The doctors are not going to let him go back to school until the first of the year," said Adam Farris.
Caleb visits school occasionally one hour at a time to gradually reacquaint him with being around other kids and back in the classroom setting.
"Shriner's staff is coming to school to talk to the kids about how Caleb is doing to help them understand what happened to Caleb," said Adam Farris.
The family has nothing but praise for Shriners Hospital and what their treatment of Caleb.
"They have the best burn unit in the world," Troy McGowan said.
"They are a very thorough hospital and very helpful," said Sandy McGowan. "We've come a long way in three months but we've got a long way to go."
This Thanksgiving they are reminded of how precious life is and how thankful they are to still have Caleb with them.
"It's like I've tried to tell everybody," Adam Farris said. "You take a lot of things for granted. Now that I've come close to losing one of my kids, it's really opened my eyes."