Nevada Burn Center Honored for Efforts

It was approaching 100 degrees as 10-year-old Robert Bishop Smith stood outside University Medical Center, but it seemed downright cool to the fourth-grader when he compared it to a day in December 2008.

That was the day when he played with a cigarette lighter as he walked to Dickens Elementary School in North Las Vegas and caught himself on fire.

“It was so unbelievably hot it hurt,” said the boy who initially spent nearly two months in UMC’s burn unit and has already undergone five surgeries and skin grafts for the burns to his upper torso. More skin graft procedures are still needed.

On Friday, Robert and two other boys who were treated by the burn unit – Brandon Moore, 16, and Weston Moon, 11 – were on hand as the Firefighters of Southern Nevada Burn Foundation thanked members of the burn unit for their work with a picnic outside the hospital.

That unit, the only one in Southern Nevada, is made up of specially trained nurses and physicians who treat more than 700 burn patients a year.

“Very few patients don’t scream in pain while you’re changing their dressings every day,” said Mary Martinat, the nurse who serves as outreach and prevention coordinator for the burn unit. “Burns are the most painful injuries because when your skin isn’t there, your nerve endings are exposed. Even a slight breeze is agonizing.

“Not many nurses can do this because when a patient screams you want to cry. You can’t help but cringe, but you know if you don’t do your job, the patient will get an infection and die,” she said.

Friday also was a day when Warren Whitney, a captain with the Clark County Fire Department, announced that the firefighters’ burn foundation was sending the three boys to a San Diego summer camp exclusively for burn patients.

“That’s really cool,” said Brandon , who suffered severe burns on his upper body in 2008 when he was dragged 41 feet after being hit by a car. He spent a month in the hospital, undergoing four surgeries. Scars are still evident on his arms.

Operated in San Diego by the Burn Institute and known as the “Camp Beyond the Scars,” the camp provides a relaxed social setting for children to work past the isolation and emotional trauma spawned by severe burn injuries.

“It helps kids and their families adapt to the world again,” Whitney said. “It shows them they’re not alone in the world. As firefighters we know how horrific these injuries can be. We want kids to be able to live life again.”

A number of local firefighters will use their vacation time to serve as camp counselors, Whitney said.

“I’m looking forward to mountain biking,” said the 11-year-old Weston , who suffered severe burns over his upper body last year after he played with gasoline and matches. He has undergone five surgeries.

As severe as the youngsters’ injuries were, Martinat noted they were fortunate – their faces were spared.

Robert still has difficulty talking about the day less than two years ago when his neighbor, Cassandra Jackson, heard him screaming as he ran down the street near his home.

Jackson, a schoolteacher, still has nightmares about that day. “I yelled for him to stop, drop and roll like we’ve been taught to teach kids but he was so scared he just kept running,” she said. “He ran right toward me on my porch.”

With his T-shirt burned off him and his upper body aflame, the lanky little boy did as Jackson told him – he got down under the faucet on the porch and she turned on the water even as she dialed 9-1-1.

In seconds, the fire was out and Jackson wrapped him in a blanket as they waited for paramedics to arrive.

For the quick thinking that firefighters believe saved the little boy’s life, Jackson was honored by the Southern Nevada chapter of the American Red Cross with the Adult Good Samaritan Award.

It is an award she wishes she hadn’t won.

“I wish he never had to go through that,” she said. “He’s been through a lot of pain.”

Until recent surgery at the Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., Robert had been unable to raise his arms above his head.

“Now I can walk on my hands,” the boy said with a smile.

On Friday, Jason Smith, an electrician, stood outside UMC with his son.

“I’m so thankful to Mrs. Jackson and the people at UMC,” he said. “He’s been through a lot, but because of them he’s got a life to live. And now the firefighters are giving him a good time with camp. We really do appreciate it.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.

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