MIRACLE girl Catrin Pugh was at Whiston Hospital today where she thanked the burns unit team for saving her life after she suffered 96 per cent burns in an horrific coach crash.
Catrin was given just a one in a thousand chance of survival after the crash in April 2013 in the French Alps as the 19 year-old was returning from a gap year working holiday in a hotel in the ski resort of Alps D'Huez.
She was trapped inside the burning coach which crashed descending a mountain pass. Rescuers took her to hospital where she was placed into an artificial coma. She had 96 per cent burns, only the soles of her feet and parts of her scalp remained untouched.
Her road to recovery started when she was flown by air ambulance to Whiston where the specialist Mersey Burns Unit is situated.
Today grateful Catrin, now aged 20, told the Star: "Before this happened I didn't know Whiston Hospital existed - I'm glad it did! Since this happened I've heard lots of good things about it."
Whiston burns surgeon Mr Ian James, who has worked at the hospital for 20 years praised the burns unit team for their dedicated. He explained that it was unusual for someone of Catrin's age to survive such extensive burns.
He said in 2008 the burns unit was having difficulty justifying its existence but people's support won through.
"Without that support we wouldn't be here, and she wouldn't be alive. It's thanks to the people of St Helens that she is," he said.
"We combine modern and good, old-fashioned practices, but that wouldn't have worked had we not had such good nursing staff to make sure wounds were super clean."
He said victims who suffered 70 per cent burns tend not to survive if they are over the age of 12 years. But he said the survival rate at Whiston was higher than for burns victims in the USA.
After arriving at Whiston Catrin remained in a coma and stayed on a life support machine for 90 days. Throughout this time she had to battle to stay alive. She was critically ill and was fitted with a tracheostomy to allow her to breathe and a colostomy.
Catrin was taken to the operating theatre the morning after her arrival at the Mersey Burns Unit. Her first operation lasted over five hours and involved removing as much of the burned tissue as possible and skin grafting over 40% of her body. She also had some of her skin sent to the lab to be artificially grown for later use.
Catrin has received 24 hour care throughout her treatment from the unit’s team of experts including burns specialists, doctors, surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists, physiotherapists, counsellors and many more.
Catrin has had over 200 operations and procedures since that day. She received skin grafts from both her mum and her 23 year-old brother, Robert, who had skin taken from their thighs and grafted onto Catrin’s body. Small cells of Catrin’s skin were grown in the skin bank laboratory. These were sprayed on to Catrin's wounds to help them heal quickly. She required daily wound care and dressing changes, taking hours at a time, to keep infection at bay and help the skin grafts survive.
Medics have rebuilt Catrin’s skin with over £80,000 worth of cadaveric skin from the national skin bank in Liverpool. Cadaveric skin is applied onto the patient once a burn has been excised. It acts as temporary skin, keeping the surgical wound protected, reducing infection and it helps promote healing.
Catrin received skin grafts to her face, body, eyelids and temporarily lost all of her hair from her scalp. During treatment, Catrin was kept warm with overhead heating panels, with the temperatures in theatres and treatment rooms increased by up to 30°c.
This is so the body does not go into shock; without skin as a protection it is difficult to keep the body temperature regulated. Bathing and hydrotherapy was essential to prevent skin graft loss from infection and to keep the skin supple and prevent it from healing in a manner that would restrict Catrin’s movement.
Initially, this needed to be done under anaesthetic in precisely controlled conditions, so that she did not have to endure the pain or the shock of the touch and movement necessary to clean her wounds and exercise her joints.
Catrin remained in 24 hour acute hospital care at the Mersey Burns Unit for eight months. She has received extensive rehabilitation and had to learn how to walk and move again. She will continue to need on-going rehabilitation. In total, to date, the care Catrin has received has cost over £1 million pounds.
Her parents school teachers Carl, aged 53, and Sara, 52, were with her at Whiston today along with her 17 year old sister Mari. They live at Rossett near Wrexham.
Mrs Pugh said: "Catrin still neds drugs and has physio at home, four daily four hour session and on Wednesdays is back at Whiston for a bath and fresh dressings."
Her proud father Carl said: "She has been very positive. We've had our bad times and we've had opur tears. She works hard because she wants to get better. That positivity is what has brought her through."
Battler Catrin, who is hoping to gain a university place and pursue her interest in music and drama said: "It's been really horrible but the pain is slowly improving. I have a good family around me and all the staff at Whiston have been really helpful, they are friends."