Angel Ortiz Jr. of East Stroudsburg, Pa., barely remembers spilling a pan of scalding hot cooking oil over his head when he was 3. His parents rushed him to an ER in the Bronx, where they lived then, hoping immediate treatment would minimize the ugly 4-by-6-inch burn mark on the right side of his scalp.
The doctors dressed the wound and sent him home to heal, but a year later Ortiz Jr.'s hair started falling out where the follicles were destroyed. “You could see the big burned area,” says his father, Angel Ortiz Sr.
Although his son, now 24, was too young to feel embarrassed, the family began researching treatments that might reduce his scarring and hair loss. “After moving to the Lehigh Valley in 2001, we learned that Lehigh Valley Health Network had a burn unit,” Ortiz Sr. says.
Specialized burn care
The family met with burn surgeon Sigrid Blome-Eberwein, MD, with LVHN’s Regional Burn Center and the Walter J. and June H. Okunski Burn Recovery Center. Here, at one of the nation's premiere burn centers, patients receive leading-edge acute care for the most serious injuries, plus a whole spectrum of rehabilitation services and advanced reconstructive procedures (including laser scar surgery).
Blome-Eberwein recommended a series of surgeries (serial excisions) to remove Ortiz Jr.’s scar and stretch and attach healthy, hair-bearing skin over the area. “We performed three excisions over a year and a half, starting when he was 5,” she says. “But as his head grew, the scar did too. So I proposed using a tissue expander — a balloon inserted under the scalp — to stretch a bigger flap of good skin for more scar coverage.”
The family had initially rejected the procedure fearing Ortiz Jr. was too young and active and would burst the balloon. But after consulting with Blome-Eberwein, they agreed he was old enough now to move forward.
“We offer a whole-person approach that takes into account a patient’s age, stage in life, and the family’s needs,” Blome-Eberwein says. “Support services include psychological counseling, occupational and physical therapy, and financial guidance. We often see patients for years.”
Ortiz Jr. underwent the balloon procedure at age 8. “Dr. Blome-Eberwein was great and made sure I felt comfortable and had minimal pain,” he says. “My hair now grows over my entire scalp, except for a line that looks like a hair part where the skin flap was attached.”