BY AMBER SMITH
She lies on her stomach, exposing her bare back to a laser wielded by her surgeon.
“Dr. Dolinak saved my life,” Stephanie Bridge says emphatically, as she positions herself for treatment that will help restore the texture of her skin.
Burn surgeon Joan Dolinak, MD, took care of Bridge when a helicopter brought her to Upstate University Hospital in the early morning hours of Nov. 19, 2016. The skin of Bridge’s back and arms was burned by the flames of a house fire that nearly killed her.
Bridge remembers hoisting both her boxer and her bullmastiff puppy out a first-floor bathroom window. Opening the window created a backdraft; Bridge ended up on the floor outside the bathroom. She reached for a towel to cover her face. She heard wood crackling. She prayed.
She was unconscious when firefighters just before 1 a.m. pulled her from the burning house in Rotterdam (Schenectady County) where she lived with friends. Firefighters never determined what started the fire. The house was a total loss.
For a month Bridge was a patient in Upstate’s Clark Burn Center intensive care unit. She spent the first week on a ventilator. She has vivid memories of skin being grafted from her legs to her back and arms.
“Usually I’m pretty tough,” she says, “but I cried.
“It was excruciating. I had to get up and move. If I didn’t keep stretching the skin, I would have had really limited motion.”
A year after the fire, Bridge makes regular trips to Upstate for laser treatments that help reduce her scarring.
Dolinak and the technicians, and Bridge, must wear protective glasses over their eyes when the laser is on. Dolinak moves the device above Bridge’s back, and along her arms. Afterward, Bridge says she feels like she has a sunburn, and ibuprofen helps.
The Upstate Foundation is partnered with the Burn Foundation of Central New York to raise $150,000 to buy the laser therapy system, which is currently being leased. Bridge credits the laser with smoothing her skin. She also says it helps with itching.
Dolinak told Bridge the itching — a symptom of nerve regrowth — would probably last a couple of years. Lotion also helps, and Bridge wears compression shirts to muffle the sensation.
The road to recovery has been long. Sometimes she has nightmares about the fire. After she was released from the hospital, Bridge went in person to thank the South Schenectady volunteer firefighters who saved her.
Because of their swift action, and Dolinak’s expert care, Bridge, 44, was alive to become a grandmother in August.
To support the Clark Burn Center’s purchase of the scar laser therapy system, click here or contact the Upstate Foundation at 315-464-4416.
This article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.