WASHINGTON — The Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center admitted its first patient on July 13, 1972. And for a half-century, the Burn Center has provided groundbreaking surgical, critical, and rehabilitative care that has benefited many individuals across the Washington metropolitan region, including firefighters, members of law enforcement, and 10 people injured during the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Who would have thought 50 years ago that one unit dedicated to caring for burn patients would become the Washington region’s only adult burn center treating 1,300 patients annually,” said burn surgeon Jeffrey Shupp, MD, director of The Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “Our multidisciplinary team is nationally and internationally recognized for their skills, expertise, and development of innovative and promising advancements in burn care.”
A lot has changed since 1972. Fewer patients are severely burned thanks to safety improvements, and those who are burned are more likely to survive. What has not changed is that severely burned patients still suffer lifelong physical and emotional scarring.
Here’s a look back at the start. When MedStar Washington Hospital Center opened its doors in 1958, initially, burn patients were admitted to units on different floors. The idea for opening an intensive care burn unit was started by local surgeon William R. Strong, MD, who had performed skin grafts and treated minor patient burns at the hospital. In 1970, as the new intensive care unit tower was under construction, Dr. Strong and another surgeon, Dr. Ira Brecher, lobbied to have a dedicated unit for burn patients.
In the mid-to-late 70s, as the annual burn census grew, and burn care was a growing specialty, a dedicated director was needed to lay the foundation for the unit’s future and establish new standards of care for treating patients. Marion Jordan, MD, was named director in 1978.
“Dr. Jordan’s innovative approach to burn rehabilitation and the establishment of the Regional Skin Bank were dynamic ideas that became an inherent part of our standards of care,” added Dr. Shupp who took the helm of the Burn Center in 2014. Under his leadership, our burn and trauma teams received worldwide recognition, particularly after the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. His enduring legacy is the bond he shared with the entire burn community.” Dr. Jordan died in 2018 at the age of 74.
Research programs and clinical trials play a major role in burn care, and patients are treated using an integrated approach. New advances have pushed the science forward including testing the effectiveness of spray-on-skin grafted from healthy skin, understanding how pressure modulates collagen growth to minimize scarring, and improving pain management to offer patients the best care possible.
“Instead of treating scars, we’re treating wounds, earlier and earlier, so the patient is less scarred,” said Taryn Travis, MD, burn surgeon who leads the laser scar revision therapy program. “Overall, the outcomes for patients are outstanding. Not only is the scar’s appearance improved, but in severe cases, itching is diminished, and a patient’s range of motion is increased.”
In November, construction will begin on a new, state-of-the-art facility where the complete continuum of care for burn patients will be located on one floor. The new facility is expected to be completed in four years. The burn clinic, inpatient unit, intensive care unit, and operating room will undergo substantial renovations. Inpatient and outpatient services will expand to enhance privacy and comfort for family members and patients, and a new, specialized operating room will be located on one floor, alongside a 10-bed, newly constructed intensive care unit.
What is next for the Burn Center? Its team is focused on training the next generation of burn care providers and partnering within the region to assist in the care of devastating skin and soft-tissue diseases, including hidradenitis suppurativa, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The team is revitalizing a Burn Surgery Fellowship program to help meet the needs of a shrinking burn surgeon workforce in the U.S.
“I am excited about the future,” Dr. Shupp concluded. “The Burn Center has so much to offer its patients, from cutting-edge research and technology to highly qualified and accomplished staff. Collectively, we can and will continue to be a symbol of hope, innovation, and progress for the next 50 years.”
The Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center remains the only adult burn treatment facility in the Washington metropolitan area, serving the District, Southern Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Eastern West Virginia.
View photo gallery below (each photo scrolls after six seconds)
Burn Team Occupational Therapist Rebekah Allely and patient, circa 1987
Burn team associate in The Burn Center hydrotherapy room
Burn Center Nurse Peggy Gunde, RN, preparing burn dressings in 1985
Dr. Marion Jordan (front center) surrounded by the Burn Center team, circa 2000
Occupational Therapist Rebekah Allely with patient
Burn Rehabilitation Therapy Team (Left to Right): Justin Pretzel, Lan Van, Ron Lassiter, Amy Brodsky, Rebekah Allely, Julie Giordano