Nothing goes faster than the seconds it can take a child to reach for something they shouldn’t have — like a dangerously hot beverage. First-time mom Heather Krause remembers it flashing as quick as a blink one Sunday morning late last year.
“We were in our pajamas reading Larsen’s favorite farm book. He hopped off my lap, handed me the book, and as I went to set it down next to me, he turned to the coffee table and grabbed my coffee mug. It was a matter of two, maybe three seconds, but neither my husband or I were quick enough to stop him,” Krause said. “Which is crazy to think because we were right there!”
In reaching for a drink, 14-month-old Larsen spilled hot coffee down his front. Heather and her husband, Austin, leaped into action — grabbing cold water and ice as they removed his suddenly soaked pajamas.
“His skin was melting off of him from his chin to his waist, and all I could do was apologize over and over and over as I cried,” Heather said. “I was desperately hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
A trip to the emergency room
The couple called the My Sanford Nurse hotline to talk with a registered nurse who instructed them to take their son to the emergency room. Fortunately, the family lives just five minutes from Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls — but the trip there felt much longer that day.
“I rushed him inside yelling for help,” Heather said. “The nurses were swift, the room filled quickly with nurses and doctors assessing the situation. They projected a calmness that let us know it was now out of our hands. They were there to help.”
Ciara Millikan was one of the nurses working in the emergency department that day, and she remembered clearly taking care of Larsen and his parents.
“It was one of those cases that just stick with you,” Millikan said. “Some parents can feel so helpless in these situations. As a nurse caring for a young patient, especially during times of high intensity, it’s important to remain calm, provide reassurance, communicate often and do what you can to make the patient and their parents feel more comfortable.”
In some cases, patients with significant burns must be transferred to a higher level of care. Thankfully, Sanford Health’s emergency room was equipped to fully address Larsen’s second-degree burns.
‘A much-needed hug’
“Austin and I stood near the back, waiting anxiously to hear that he would be OK,” Heather said. “One of the nurses came over to give me a much-needed hug and I could see in his face he understood how I was feeling.”
After he was examined, Larsen was able to cuddle with his mom and relax. He was given medication to manage his pain, while the care team walked his parents through next steps for his care.
It can be difficult in many ways for parents bringing a child to the emergency room.
“With this type of injury in a child, the parents seem to struggle most with concern that they could’ve prevented the injury and concern for their child’s discomfort,” explained emergency medicine provider Anthony Pfeiffer, M.D. He was also part of the team caring for Larsen.
“I usually attempt to alleviate that first concern by telling the parents that these types of injuries are common, especially with active children that age.”
With injuries that require further care, Dr. Pfeiffer thinks patients feel more comfortable with a detailed plan that includes instructions for wound care, return precautions and a timeline for follow-up care.
Gratitude in action
After the events of that day, Larsen’s parents were left feeling thankful for the care they received in the emergency department. That’s when the couple decided to participate in the Guardian Angel program.
“Getting to say thank you to the frontline staff at the ER was important to us, because while that accident was likely not the worst case they saw that day, to us it was the worst day of our lives,” Heather said. “We wanted them to know they were appreciated and that we don’t take them for granted.”
The Guardian Angel program at Sanford Health gives patients and their families the opportunity to make a gift to the Sanford Health Foundation in honor of a physician, nurse, staff member or volunteer who had a significant effect on their experience.
The Krause family chose to honor Dr. Pfeiffer, Millikan and another emergency room nurse, Scott Stauffenecker. As part of the program, all three were recognized at a ceremony in the emergency department where Heather and Austin were able to share their story and say thank you in person.
‘Such an honor’
“Being recognized by a patient’s family is such an honor. I take pride in providing the best care that I can,” Millikan says. “Just knowing I made a difference in their recovery process is so rewarding.”
For many, receiving a Guardian Angel award is a reminder of why they chose to work in the health care field.
“We all went into health care to heal and provide comfort to patients, so knowing that we have been able to do that successfully is very fulfilling,” says Dr. Pfeiffer.
And this care team truly provided healing for the Krause family in more ways than one.
“Not once did they judge us or give us looks like we were bad parents. They were kind, comforting and attentive to our entire family,” Heather says. “I will never forget the kindness we experienced that day. While it may not seem like much to them, it was everything to us.”
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