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Karolina Makes a Full Recovery After a Severe Burn Injury at the Beach

Shriners Children's provided Lina the burn care she needed to get back to being a kid again.

Julia, Alexander and their four children were looking forward to a vacation at the beach, but a hidden danger below the sand led to an unexpected emergency for their youngest daughter Karolina.

The family drove from Northern California to San Diego. The oldest sibling Louisa was especially excited to take surf lessons. Middle siblings Sebastian and Roman were excited to go swimming in the ocean. The youngest of the bunch, Karolina (Lina), was happy to be on an adventure with her family.

“We got to the beach early and I was thinking, watch out for the water, be sure to keep reminding the kids to stay away from the water if Alexander or I aren’t nearby,” said their mother Julia. “I never even thought about hot embers buried in the sand.”

The difference is that Shriners Children’s saw Karolina as a person and us as a family.
Julia, Karolina's mother

Hidden Burn Hazards at the Beach

Julia went with Louisa to get checked in for the surf lessons. Alexander, the boys and Lina headed down to the ocean.

“Lina didn’t like the sand in her shoes, so she stopped and took them off,” said Alexander. “And then she went running on the beach. That’s when I heard her scream. I turned around and saw a lifeguard on the beach. He ran over to Lina and picked her up and I started running and got there a couple of seconds after him.”

Lina had run across hot coals that burned her feet, causing her to fall down onto the embers and burn her hands too.

It’s common for beachgoers to build bonfires and throw sand over the embers to put them out, instead of dousing the fires with water. Sand puts out the flames but leaves hot embers beneath the sand, which are extremely hazardous to visitors the following day.

“You don’t think about fires or embers at the beach,” said Julia as she shook her head. “Maybe if you live near the beach you do, but if you are visiting … we just didn’t know.”

A Search for Help

Alexander loaded Lina and the family into the car and headed for the closest urgent care center.

Alexander and Julia said that the one-hour drive was the worst part of the entire experience. The burns caused Lina constant, agonizing pain. She was screaming and crying – a parent’s worst nightmare.

As it turns out, the urgent care facility they ended up at did not treat burns, so they were sent to another nearby hospital to learn that it was at capacity because of COVID-19 cases. They rushed to yet another medical center. Meanwhile, Lina was in extreme pain and was inconsolable.

Lina was frantic by the time they reached the next medical center, and she had blisters that were growing and popping. The family was also exhausted, in shock and desperate.

This hospital had a pediatric burn center and provided Lina emergency burn care. Then, the family's health plan referred them to a physician in the Bay Area for follow-up care.

“We had to drive to South San Francisco and see a burn specialist who was not a pediatrician,” said Julia. “It was really traumatizing going there, the way they dealt with a 2-year-old. They took her bandages off without any pain medication or numbing. They said they had to see how much it hurt. She’s screaming and I’m basically laying on top of her to try and protect her and calm her down.”

Lina was transferred to yet another facility close to home in Sacramento. Again, the burn doctor was not a pediatrician. A former neighbor had already reached out to Julia and Alexander about Shriners Children’s Northern California, but they followed up only when one of Alexander’s colleagues suggested contacting Tina Palmieri, M.D. Dr. Palmieri then suggested Shriners Children's as an option. Julia and Alexander immediately made an appointment.

“The first visit was such a relief,” said Julia. “It was incredible, especially after what we’d been through.”


Lina at home.

Finding Quality Care and Support at Shriners Children’s

Alexander and Julia are thankful that they found Shriners Children’s, and a team that really cares for Lina and their family. A child life specialist was at their initial meeting, there to blow bubbles and give Lina a toy doctor’s kit. The entire team treated them with care and compassion.

“It wasn’t just the doctors or nurses, it was the whole staff – the people who called us on the phone, the people walking us down the hall – everyone was kind,” said Julia. “They made sure Lina was comfortable and that we were comfortable too.”

Lina’s burns had healed poorly by the time the family connected with Shriners Children’s. Her thumb on her left hand was stuck to her palm and two of her left toes were stuck to her foot.

“We met with Dr. Romanowski and she was wonderful,” said Julia. “She explained everything and encouraged us to schedule skin graft surgeries right away.”

David Greenhalgh, M.D., chief of burns, performed the surgeries and met with the family beforehand to explain and manage expectations. Julia was struck by the amount of attention everyone at Shriners Children’s gives to their patients and the families.

“After the surgery we noticed how amazing the skin graft was. There were tiny little folds in the skin that had been burned, just like in normal skin. We noticed how much care Dr. Greenhalgh had taken,” said Julia. “A few days after the surgery we went back to have the bandages changed, and Lina got measured for garments, a special glove and socks to keep scars from forming. They measured her hand and feet, and a seamstress made the garments especially for her, and they just gave them to us. It was wonderful.”

Julia and Alexander also appreciated the training they got from Lina’s occupational therapist, who explained what they needed to do to help Lina regain mobility to areas where she had been burned.

“Every day we have to work with Lina to keep scars soft and skin moveable, flexible,” said Julia. “Because of our care team, we know what to do, and it’s a comfort to know the burn clinic is always open and we can always go in if we have questions or need help.”

Karolina is Flourishing

Lina’s surgery was successful, her wounds have healed, and her mobility has returned completely. She’s walking and running, riding her scooter and using her hands normally – including continuing to play with the toy doctor’s kit she received on her first visit to Shriners Children’s.

The Shriners Children’s Difference

Julia and Alexander encourage others to learn more about Shriners Children’s Northern California’s pediatric burn program, and how the team was there for Lina after the heartbreaking accident and hectic run-around to find proper treatment.

“The difference is that Shriners Children’s saw Karolina as a person and us as a family. Everyone cared for her and not just in a medical way. They cared for her and made sure she was happy, they cared for us,” said Julia. “You could tell everyone was there because they love children. You could tell that Lina’s well-being was always the goal.”

Care for Patients and Families

Lina was provided pediatric burn care and made a full recovery. Her family was provided support from Shriners Children's every step of the way.

Lina in crib surrounded by stuffed animals

Lina in her crib with her stuffed animals, post surgery.

Lina sleeping with bandage on hand

Lina sleeping with a bandage on her hand, post surgery.

Lina at pumpkin patch

Lina posing at a pumpkin patch.

Lina in almond orchard

Lina out in an almond orchard for a photo shoot.

Lina with her whole family

Lina with her family.

Lina holding pumpkin

Lina holding a pumpkin.

Lina at home

Lina hanging out on the porch during summer.

Lina in almond orchard

Lina out for a photo shoot in an almond orchard.

Burn awareness and prevention


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