by Sonya Kullmann
To metal worker Ron Otradovec, lasers are what you use to cut steel. So, when his doctor first recommended a laser to help heal his scar tissue, he wasn’t so sure.
“I thought, ‘They’re going to cut my leg off!’” he joked.
Nearly two years ago, Otradovec was seriously injured when an 1800-pound piece of steel fell on him. It broke his leg so badly, doctors had to use a titanium rod, plates and screws to get him upright again. He was also left with a huge wound on his right leg, making a skin graft necessary. The resulting scar tissue was tight and limited Otradovec’s mobility, despite his continued physical therapy.
“For a long time, I was stuck at 115-degrees when it came to bending my leg,” he said. “After I healed from the first laser treatment, I gained five degrees immediately.”
The treatment is called Fractional CO2 Laser Therapy. “The laser penetrates the skin and breaks down the scar tissue, encouraging the body to regenerate more uniform skin cells,” said Dr. Krisi Causa, Mercy trauma and critical care surgeon. “The newly-healed area becomes much more flexible. Mercy is the only burn center in the region, and this is particularly useful for our burn patients. It can be used on their scar tissue as soon as they heal.”
Diana Reeves was badly burned when a propane leak caused an explosion in a laundromat. “I was standing directly in front of the dryer when it exploded,” she said. “I was thrown into a wall, and I remember I couldn’t breathe. My husband was blown out the door and came back in to get me.”
Diana was wearing summer clothing at the time – a tank top, capri pants and flip flops. She had extensive burns on her face, arms, hands, legs and feet. She was airlifted to the burn unit at Mercy Hospital Springfield, where she stayed for about a month.
When she got back to work, she was extremely frustrated by the lack of mobility in her hands. “I type all day,” she said. “I had to go back to ‘hunt and peck’ for a long time. I also had a lot of trouble grasping anything with my right hand and holding on to it. While I could make a complete fist, it really hurt and I would often drop things.”
During one of her follow-up appointments, a nurse told her about the new laser that was on its way. “I said absolutely – sign me up. I had no idea there was something that could make it better.”
Reeves began laser treatments on her hands, legs and the underside of her arm. She describes the treatment as a painful tattoo in a sensitive area, but says the results are worth the discomfort. “After the scabs went away and the swelling went down, I noticed a significant improvement in my hands. And the daily pain I was experiencing is practically gone.”
The great news for patients with similar scars is there’s no time limit on getting the treatment to improve their ability to function. “We’re getting ready to see someone who was burned decades ago,” Dr. Causa said. “It doesn’t matter how far out they are from the injury.” In addition, the laser treatment is widely approved by insurance companies and Medicare.