“It all happened so fast”

How a day at the beach changed Reagen Robinson’s life

Exeter toddler Reagen Robinson’s life will never be the same after an outing to a private beach near Grand Bend in August. Soon after arriving at the beach with his parents Brad and Katrina and brother Jordon, Reagen ran toward an extinguished, but still hot, firepit and suffered third degree burns to his hands and second degree burns to parts of his legs.

As told to Casey Lessard

Katrina Robinson: We’re lake people. It’s nice to live next door to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and we take advantage of it. We have two small kids and two dogs who enjoy to swim. We’re beachgoers. It’s a fun, inexpensive day to have family time.
It was a Friday afternoon, and after Brad finished work we decided to go to the beach.
We were at a private beach. We had just sat down and I noticed he went toward the fire pit and I literally just about had him. I couldn’t catch him fast enough. He fell into a fire pit full of ashes that were still fairly warm. I picked him up and threw him in the water with me. I didn’t know what else to do. Brad came down and took one look at him and said we had to go to the hospital. It all happened so fast. It seemed like we got there one minute, and the next we were driving back down the road with a screaming baby.
Shock took over. Usually I’m a very queasy person, but for some reason I was the pillar of strength. I carried him into Exeter hospital and they took him from me so I could give them information. I went back and all you could see was his skin was charred. It was all grey. I don’t know how else to describe it because I try not to think about it; it’s so horrific.
I remember having to stand in the hospital room and hold cold cloths of saline solution over top of him. They explained what they were going to do and gave him a drug called ketamine to knock him out. Before I knew it, he was being taken to Victoria Hospital. We dropped Jordon off at Brad’s parents’ house in Ailsa Craig, and it felt like forever to get from Ailsa Craig to London. We got lost and finally found where we were supposed to be.
I don’t think the severity of it sunk in until the next morning, Saturday. Having been brought up to speed by his team, the plastic surgeon came in and had a look and said flat out that Reagen had to have skin grafting. He said he would wait until his normal surgery days, which were Wednesday and Thursday, but then he came back and changed his mind. He said if it was okay with us, he would do it the next day, Sunday.
On his first surgery, they skin-grafted up his forearms, the back of his hands and the fronts of his fingers. They placed pins in his fingers to keep them straight so he didn’t move any of the skin grafting. It takes between three and seven days for the skin grafts to be fully attached.
Originally they thought they would have to skin graft his palms, a spot on his knees and a spot on his toe. But after two hours, the surgeon came to us and was excited, saying he didn’t think his knee or his palms needed the surgery.
We were in the hospital for four weeks. They were shocked at how fast he healed, and Dr. Scilley was calling him his Superhealer. They were pleased enough to let us go home, but reminded us that we would have to have home care come in every day because he had sores that would need dressings. We went home with some dressing instructions and we were to wrap Cobans (a type of compression bandage) to add some tension into form before we got into gloves. We were home doing that for about a week before we had to go see Dr. Scilley. The Coban, because it wasn’t wrapped properly, started to cut into the bases of the fingers and added new wounds. Unfortunately, because of the way the health system works, no one from the hospital could come out and teach our home care workers how to use them properly, and you have to be a pro at it for it to work properly.
The physical therapist, surgeon and a couple of nurses went to a conference in Montreal, and discovered gloves that had some tension in them with silver to help the healing. These were eventually replaced by the full pressure gloves he uses now. His left hand was burned worse than his right hand; he has about 95 per cent use of his right hand, and we’ve had issues with his left hand. His web spaces grew in a bit and the gloves are cutting into the web space. We’re trying to get it to heal, but you need pressure on it to keep it functional. It’s just getting better now.
The body is still trying to repair its own skin because it doesn’t understand skin grafting. The blood vessels are still up at the surface, so if he were to pick his finger, it would bleed like crazy. The gloves help put pressure on his blood vessels and add form to his fingers. His fingers will never look like yours and mine, but he’ll be able to bend them.
With the home care workers, I hold on to him and we go through six exercises to bend his joints and stretch the skin to its maximum potential. Even in a 24-hour period, you can have a lot of contraction, so you have to manipulate it while it’s still not completely healed.

Inflicting pain daily
They’re hopeful that he will have full mobility. With his left hand, he doesn’t do a whole lot because it’s still sore. He favours his right hand, and we hope the mobility’s there in his left hand, but he can’t talk so we don’t know.
It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s not an easy thing to watch a child go through pain. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have to assist in inflicting pain on him. I honestly thought when they first taught me how to do the exercises in the hospital that it would get easier. It doesn’t. In fact, it gets worse because it’s been four or five months continuous.
When you have a burn, you have a burn for life. He will require surgeries until he is fully grown because his fingers and arms will grow but his skin won’t grow with them.
It has its downfalls for being as young as he was, but it has its upside, too. He’ll never remember what happened, and he’ll never know any different. He’ll just have to adapt. It’s life. You can’t go back and it’s never going to get any worse than it was that day. We just have to teach him that everyone is different, and you can do anything you want as long as you set your mind to it.

A November fundraiser in Parkhill raised almost $20,000 to offset the medical costs. Reagen needs gloves, which are covered 75 per cent by OHIP every six months, but the family has to pay for any additional gloves in the interim. Medical supplies and other expenses, such as parking for regular visits to the hospital, also come out of their pocket.
Donations are still being accepted. Cheques made out to the “Parkhill Lions Club in trust to Reagen Robinson” can be sent to the club at P.O. Box 207 Parkhill, ON N0M 2K0. Tax receipts will be issued.