From Burn Survivor to Burn Surgeon: Jason Heard, M.D., Encourages Burn Safety
A burn surgeon at Shriners Children’s Northern California wishes he had been more careful as a teen. Dr. Jason Heard was nearly killed after playing with flammable liquids in his backyard with his childhood friends.
Dr. Heard, now one of only a handful of burn survivors who is now a burn surgeon, promotes prevention as well as advances in care as he treats patients at the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute at Shriners Children’s Northern California. It is one of the leading programs in the nation, accredited by the American Burn Association and the American College of Surgeons as a verified pediatric burn center, and is the region’s most active and noted location for children’s burn care on the West Coast.
During National Burn Awareness Week from February 4-11, 2024, Dr. Heard is encouraging others to be burn aware and understand the dangers of handling flammable liquids.
Nearly Killed by a Backyard Fire
Dr. Heard was an active and curious kid, who, like many young boys, had a fascination with fire.
One day after school, when his parents were at work, he and his friends built a fire in his backyard. Heard thought he would make the fire bigger. He went to the garage, got the lawn mower gasoline, and poured it on the fire.
“I still remember how a little flame caught the tip of the gas can, and that little flame ran up the spout, then the whole can exploded while I was holding it,” Heard said. “I was 12 years old, and in moments my face, torso, hands and arms were on fire.”
“Somehow, I remembered to stop, drop and roll, but the fire wouldn’t go out,” he continued. “I went running upstairs to our shower. A mailman happened to be driving by when all this happened, and he was the one that came in, took my shirt off, and helped us until the ambulance came.”
Heard was rushed from his home in Urbandale, Iowa, to the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center, with second- and third-degree burns covering over 40% of his body. He spent several days sedated and on a ventilator.
“When I finally regained consciousness, my face was swollen, and I couldn't see; everything was dark,” he said.
Hundreds of Procedures and Compassionate Care
During the following years, Heard underwent a staggering number of procedures, including skin grafting and reconstructive procedures.
After treatment at the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center, he was connected to Shriners Children's Ohio (formerly Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati). There, he underwent numerous laser treatments to smooth out scars, and he had plastic surgery to reconstruct his right ear, which had burned off.
“For years, I would fly from my home in Iowa to Shriners Children’s Ohio for treatment,” Heard remembered. “Shriners Children’s welcomed me with open arms, providing a room at the hospital, unlimited food, video games, and continuous physical and emotional support. They cared for me like family, and I will forever be grateful for the nurses and doctors who cared for me like I was their own.”
Pioneering Medical Advances
Heard was so inspired by the care he received that he committed himself to a career treating kids who experienced the same kind of burns that he had. After medical school, he applied for fellowship at the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute at Shriners Children's Northern California. After his successful advanced medical training, he secured a position as a burn surgeon at the institute.
“Everyone at Shriners Children's – our physicians, nurses, physical therapists, child life specialists, pediatric orthotics and prosthetic specialists, as well as our support staff – delivers unparalleled care, just like the care I received as a patient,” Heard said.
“This is a dream come true. Over the years I watched Shriners Children’s Northern California staff become the presidents of the American Burn Association, and publish extensive, leading research. Now, I’m on the same team I idolized going through medical school,” he said.
Shriners Children’s Northern California’s state-of-the-art children’s hospital is staffed and equipped to provide reconstructive surgeries and restorative surgeries for healed burns, as well as treatments for all levels and types of burn injuries including scarring, smoke inhalation and other complex conditions. While most patients come from within 100 miles of the hospital, Shriners Children’s Northern California commonly treats children with acute burns from Alaska, Colorado, the four northwestern states of Mexico and the Pacific Rim islands.
The goal of the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute at Shriners Children's Northern California is to change lives every day through innovative pediatric specialty burn care, world-class research and outstanding medical education.
Heard proudly shares stories of how he and his colleagues are treating patients to advance life-saving care. But, he’ll also tell you that a critically important part of care is prevention.
“Kids and adults need to be reminded how dangerous flammable fluids are, and how quickly household accidents can lead to life-threatening burns,” he said. “Be cautious, be careful, and don’t play with fire.”
Learn More About Fire Prevention Awareness
National Burn Awareness Week 2024 is February 4-10. This year’s campaign is focused on educating kids and adults about the dangers of flammable liquids.
The American Burn Association has fire safety guidelines at ameriburn.org.
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