Thin Thin is 18 years old. She sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 42 percent of her body on Sunday 29 May 2011 around 7pm. It was a tragic accident that took place on the property where she lives with her family. Thin Thin’s younger sister had unintentionally spilt fuel on the ground near an oil lantern. Upon lighting the oil lantern for the evening, a fire ensued. Unfortunately, Thin Thin found herself in the direct line of the fire. She turned her back to run but was engulfed in a surge of flames. As well as severe burns to her buttocks, Thin Thin also sustained burns to her torso (front and back), both arms extending down to the fingers and her legs from her buttocks extending down to her feet. There are several large areas where no skin remains and the adipose tissue (fat layer) is exposed on her thin body.
Thin Thin is the oldest of 6 children; her youngest sibling is 8 months old. Her parents moved the family from Burma to Thailand 18 months ago (in early 2010). Her father had been earning 1,500 Kyat (US$1.50) per day transporting passengers on a rickshaw in Rangoon. This was not enough income to support the large (and growing) family. In search for a better life, they headed for the Thai-Burma border and found work managing a corn field just outside the Thai township of Mae Sot. Since moving to Thailand, none of the children go to school. They assist their parents on the farm. Her father now receives 100 Baht (US$3) per day for the upkeep of the farm.
At the time of the accident, Thin Thin’s immediate reaction was to rip off her clothes which put out the flames to her body. Her parents did not know what action to take for their injured daughter and therefore proceeded with a neighbour’s advice to rub toothpaste into her burns (this is a commonly used remedy for burns amongst people from rural Burma – see Tha Gan’s story which reflects a similar home treatment plan). The neighbour became worried about Thin Thins’s condition and a decision was made to ring the farm’s owner so that the family could request leave from the property to seek medical attention. The Thai farm owner drove over to the property and helped the family get Thin Thin to the Mae Tao Clinic (MTC). Her arrival time was 11pm; at no time prior was water or cool damp cloths applied to her injuries.
Staff at the Mae Tao Clinic surgical department took charge and began cleaning and dressing Thin Thin’s wounds. A clinically sound method of applying silver sulfadiazine (burn cream) and thick gauze and bandages was applied to Thin Thin’s burns. She received intravenous (IV) fluids and was commenced on an IV antibiotic to combat a fever. Thin Thin was suffering greatly from pain and she was terrified of having her wounds cleaned and her dressings changed. Despite her condition being adequately managed, she was referred to the Burma Adult Medical Fund (BAMF) to ensure that she had access to stronger pain relief medication, additional burn’s ointment, and also paraffin-based gauze to prevent the dressing sticking to her wounds (which was quickly procured in Chiang Mai and sent to BAMF for this purpose). BAMF staff members (Australian qualified registered nurses) also assisted the Mae Tao Clinic medics by attending to wound care and the debriding (removing the dead skin) from Thin Thin’s wounds. In early June 2011, Thin Thin was transferred to Mae Sot Hospital for case management and to prevent spread of infection.
Thin Thin’s injury has substantially increased the hardship faced by the family. Their dream of finding a better life in Thailand has turned into a nightmare. Instead of working hard on the property, Thin Thin’s parents are by her side night and day. They worry about their other children but remain focused on being there for Thin Thin. A neighbour has been assisting supervise and take care of the other children. Without Thin Thin’s father present to supervise and direct them, the remaining family members are not able to generate income.
When Thin Thin’s parents are asked about their hopes for her future they say they are not worried about the scarring and that they just want their daughter to get better and come home. They also worry that she was pulled out of schooling when they moved from Rangoon and that she does not have the education to work in a respected profession such as teaching. Thin Thin explains she just wants to recover from her injuries because she is experiencing much suffering. Her greatest hope is to continue her sewing classes that her aunty has been giving her with the dream of one day becoming a tailor.
Update August 2011: Thin Thin remains in an isolation ward at Mae Sot General Hospital. BAMF have been monitoring her treatment and her progress. She has lost a lot of weight and is being fed through a nasal-gastric tube. The burns to her torso and legs are healing well as is the burn on her right arm. However, the burns on Thin Thin’s upper left arm and buttocks are still a cause for concern and susceptible to infection.
Thin Thin has a very long road ahead of her but BAMF are committed to helping her through her treatment process.