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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Etchings are on the ceiling for burn patients to look at while doing mobility therapy during an open house for the newly remodeled University of Utah Burn Center Tuesday, July 30, 2013, in Salt Lake City.
I have cried many days watching this transformation because I really believe it’s going to make all the difference in a positive way for all of these patients. —Lezli Matthews

SALT LAKE CITY — Renovations to the only academic specialty burn center in the Intermountain West were unveiled Tuesday, presenting patients with more advanced and family-friendly facilities.

Patients suffering from critical burns and other severe wounds will fill the University of Utah Burn Center’s 15 rooms Wednesday when the unit fully opens to the public after 18 months of construction, said the unit’s nurse manager, Lezli Matthews.

“I have cried many days watching this transformation because I really believe it’s going to make all the difference in a positive way for all of these patients,” Matthews said. “Some of these patients that walk though here have just gasped. They just can’t even believe it. They have said that we’ve given excellent care, but the surroundings could have always been a lot better.”

The center expanded from 9,000 to 23,000 square feet, with three additional patient rooms and a spacious bathroom for each room. Additionally, each patient room doubled in size and is now equipped with the latest medical technology, including dialysis capabilities, monitoring systems, patient lifts and infection control systems, said Stephen Morris, the center’s medical director.

“We feel like this is a much better place to take care of patients,” Morris said. “It’s easier for staff, it’s more comfortable for patients, and the families can feel like they’re more of a part of the healing of their family member, loved one or friend. This puts a very positive spin on something that can be very difficult to deal with.”

“A goal ever since I started working here is someday we wanted a burn center that accommodates the families because we really believe that patients do so much better when they have the support around them,” Matthews said. “The rooms were not really family-friendly before. They were so small, so we wanted them to be large enough that a family member could always be in the room participating.”

Jami Reppe, of Clearfield, whose 8-year-old son Kyler suffered second- and third-degree burns in 2007 as a result of child abuse, said she was amazed as she toured the new facilities: large rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and couches with pullout beds.

“I slept in a chair for the whole week that Kyler was here,” Reppe said, apologizing as her voice strained in her throat. “There were no windows outside. I didn’t shower because there wasn’t a bathroom in the room. And looking at these bathrooms … Families are going to be so blessed having this type of facility.”

Reppe attended the center’s unveiling after donating more than 1,000 sippy cups and binkies to the unit, knowing how attention to little things, like having the right supplies for the young patients, make a difference in facilities where patients sometimes must stay for weeks or months on end.

“I don’t wish that it could have been different because what we had was absolutely amazing, and the care that we got far surpassed what any type of facility could have done,” she said. “But this now allows them to give even better care, and I think it’s absolutely amazing.”

Photographs of Kyler, along with more than 30 other burn survivors, now line the center’s walls accompanied by words of inspiration like “courage” and “determination.”

Hospital officials began working on drawings for the unit’s renewal 2 ½ years ago, Matthews said. For the last few months, the unit has been treating patients in eight beds in the center, but once it opens fully on Wednesday, seven patients from throughout the hospital will move into the new, state-of-the-art rooms.

The new center’s official ribbon-cutting will happen in September, as a few more improvements like redesigning the waiting room walls are still a work in progress, but now patients can see the full scope of the unit’s improvements.

“When they took out the walls and started opening up all of those floor-to-ceiling windows, I literally got shivers,” she said.

About 500 adult and pediatric burn patients from five Intermountain West states come to the center for treatment each year — the largest geographical area of any burn center in the country, according to Morris.

The center’s renewal not only means a better environment for patients and their families, but also more efficient and streamlined medical care, Matthews said. For example, the new “center core” storage facility has three points of access and stocks all medical supplies in one nearby place.

“I truly believe we did the best job we possibly could to make this a wonderful place to work, to be a patient, and to be a visitor,” she said. “I think we’ve succeeded on every account, so I am literally overjoyed.”

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