The special collaboration between Stony Brook University Hospital and a group of Suffolk County volunteer firefighters is more than skin deep; it’s a relationship that goes back 30 years and on Thursday afternoon the two groups came together to unveil a bigger, brighter and state of the art burn center, the only one of its kind in Suffolk County.
The Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center Fund was formed in 1978, helping both civilian burn victims and firefighters through research, education, leadership, prevention and funding.
The multi-million dollar expansion increased the center from 5,600 to 7,200 square-feet and moved it from the fourth to the eighth floor. The expansion means larger treatment rooms and private patient rooms with space for overnight visitors.
According to officials, it is a design that promotes efficiency and optimal patient care.
“Time is tissue,” said Steven Sandoval, doctor and medical director for the burn center. “We have a very specialized and dedicated staff."
Eric Unhjem, who survived a plane crash in Shirley in 2012 and suffered burns over 70 percent of his body, was not expected to live through the night. He stood in front of a crowd at the afternoon hospital reception, recalling the near month he spent at the burn unit, and told them with the help of the staff there, he beat the odds.
“The docs suggested that I wouldn’t make it through the night and had less than a 30-percent chance of surviving the first 48 hours. Happily, I proved them wrong,” said Unhiem.
Anthony Musumeci, 18, of West Islip, spent two weeks at the burn center last year. A volunteer firefighter, Musumeci was injured not on the job, but after an explosion on his boat Thanksgiving Day. He was airlifted from Babylon to the burn center. The burns that once covered his hands are hardly visible; his face and neck now unmarked.
“They explained everything. They told me I would have scars and what I would go through. They were like a second family to me," said Musumeci.
Sandoval made note that the burn center was not named for a benefactor at Thurday's opening reception.
“The Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center is a very unique
name. Most are named after a big donor. This is about Suffolk County taking
care of Suffolk County," he said.
Other unique aspects of the burn center include a living skin bank, which grows new skin, is one of the few in the country, according to Sandoval.
“You take skin from a patient, cultivate it and grow to about three-by-three square-feet in about four weeks," he said.
For John Lussa, a member of the Smithtown Fire Department and President of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center Fund the accomplishment of having the center opened was overwhelming.
“We continue to grow, continue to take small steps, but this, this was one of our bigger steps.”