How an Afternoon Preparing Lunch Turned Tragic

By Jade Waddy

It was a normal weekend afternoon, when Solomon Benghan decided to prepare lunch for himself and his fiancée. He opted for beef crispitos, one of his favorite Mexican meals, which involves frying a wrapped tortilla filled with beef, cheese and condiments. “I poured oil in the pot, enough to submerge the crispitos, and proceeded to turn on the stove,” said Benghan. “In an effort to speed up the process, I cranked up the stove very high.”

After the first batch was finished, his attention shifted to drying them, leaving the hot oil on the stove unattended. Before he knew it, the hot oil ignited and was engulfed in flames.

Attempting to Extinguish the Fire

“I quickly ushered my fiancée out of the apartment,” said Benghan. “Several options crossed my mind to extinguish the flame, including suffocating the flame with a wet blanket or pot lid, using a fire extinguisher or using sand.”

The closest blanket to Benghan was made of silk polyester, which he quickly realized would not be a safe choice. Of his options, Benghan ultimately picked up his kitchen fire extinguisher. “I aimed for the pot and flames at a distance however; I did not aim correctly,” said Benghan. “Unfortunately, the jet stream from the fire extinguisher exacerbated the fire.”

“It was as if everything was working against me,” Benghan said.

Fresh Air Reignited the Flames

After a few minutes, the flame died down and Benghan thought he caught a break. In an effort to clean up and remove the pot containing the hot oil from the kitchen, he opened the kitchen door to take the pot outside. He grabbed the pot handle and almost instantly the fresh air from outside rushed in, reigniting and amplifying the fire. This time, the air blew the flames over his right hand and arms. “My natural reflexes caused me to knock the pot over, which spilled some of the hot oil and flames onto my right leg,” Benghan said.

Not only was he severely injured, the carpet and couch were both in flames. With the help of a neighbor, Benghan was able to put the fire out while his fiancée called 911.

Rushed to Memorial Hermann’s John S. Dunn Burn Center

Benghan was immediately rushed to the John S. Dunn Burn Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center – the only comprehensive burn center in Houston – where he learned he sustained second and third degree burns on his right hand, right arm and right leg.

Benghan spent almost three weeks in the hospital due to his injuries. During that time, he received more than a foot of skin grafts covering about three quarters of the perimeter of his right hand and arm. The skin used for his grafts was harvested from his thigh, to repair the areas of his arms. He also spent his days in occupational and physical therapy, regaining his mobility and strength that were affected by his burn injuries.

Once discharged, Benghan returned back home to his new normal, which required daily care of his injuries consisting of cleaning open wounds, applying antibiotic cream to prevent infection, and wrapping them with gauze.

“I became more cautious and aware of how I was cooking once I returned home,” Benghan said. “It was challenging adjusting to my injuries, but I am thankful for my family, friends and loved ones who stepped in to help me along the journey.”

Outpatient Therapy to Help Regain Mobility and Use of His Hand

Outpatient occupational therapy focused on regaining mobility and full utilization of Benghan’s fingers, wrist and arm. The goal was to strengthen his muscles, increase flexibility of the skin grafts and increase joint motion. “The activities my therapists engaged me in challenged me to increase my grip strength, strengthen arm muscles, and stretch the skin,” said Benghan.

Therapists also used a heat massage therapy machine to relax tight skin areas and increase blood flow, thus reducing pains and itching due to nerve regeneration.

In the weeks that followed his discharge, Benghan began to develop hypertrophic scarring. A hypertrophic scar is a thickened, raised scar that can develop when the skin is injured and is due to the body’s abnormal response to a trauma or injury. When the skin is injured, body cells try to heal it by depositing collagens. When the body cells produce too much collagen, the scars become raised. They are a frequent complication of burn injuries and are not considered dangerous or life-threatening. They are, however, painful and itchy.

Laser Surgeries Recommended to Reduce Scarring

“In order to help Solomon with the scarring he began to experience, I recommended a special surgery that aims to reduce some of the scarring,” said Dr. Daniel Freet, plastic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

To date, Benghan has undergone six CO2 ablative laser surgeries, with the potential for more in the future. “The laser surgery has shown some effect in reducing some of the scarring Benghan has experienced,” said Dr. Freet. “The surgery is meant to help to break the collagen tissues, and give them another chance to realign themselves, heal properly, and give the skin more flexibility. The procedure also helps with the cosmetic appearance of the skin, when it recovers.”

“I’m hoping the laser surgeries can help the healing process,” said Benghan, who continues doing occupational therapy exercises at home and wears his compression garments daily.  “I’ve learned so much during this experience and I hope no one has to experience what I’ve gone through.” His advice to anyone considering frying food in their kitchen is to, “educate yourself on kitchen safety; a fire can happen quickly and unexpectedly. Prevention is key.”

To learn more about the John S. Dunn Burn Center click here.

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