Autumn 2003
The Dr. Andrew J. and Henrietta Panettieri Burn Center

It’s 1971. America is buzzing about the Pentagon Papers. The U.S. table tennis team has opened the door to diplomatic relations with China. And a terrible explosion at United Illuminating’s Bridgeport Harbor Station leaves several people badly burned. They are quickly taken to Bridgeport Hospital.

In 1971, Bridgeport Hospital had burn care experts, such as U.S. Army Medical Corps veteran Michael D’Aiuto, MD, and Walter Pleban, MD, but it had no dedicated burn unit. The Harbor Station explosion, helped to change that.

Bridgeport Hospital Burn Center nurses Susan Gellis-Trafny (left) and Jaime Meszoros prepare one of the unit’s special bathtubs. The tubs are used for debridement—the careful removal of a patient’s non-living, burned skin so replacement skin can be grafted onto the wound site.

The late Andrew J. Panettieri, MD, chairman of Surgery at the time, had long recognized the need for a specially staffed, specially equipped burn center to provide comprehensive care to burn patients.

The Harbor Station explosion confirmed Dr. Panettieri’s belief that as an industrial city, Bridgeport needed this unique service. He was so determined that a burn center was needed that he talked the hospital into matching any funds he raised to establish one.

Dr. Panettieri, aided by his wife, Henrietta, spearheaded a major fund-raising campaign (including a Duke Ellington concert and a Bob Hope show).

In 1973, his dream finally came true with the establishment of the Burn Center named in his honor. When the Burn Center was renovated in 1999, Henrietta’s name was added to the title in recognition of the role she played in raising the needed funds.

Dr. D’Aiuto was named the first medical director of the Burn Center, and served in that capacity for many years, until his retirement in 2002.

Today, about 200 people each year from throughout the state receive care in the Burn Center.

In the 1990s, when the American College of Surgeons began verifying burn centers for meeting national standards of care, the Bridgeport Hospital Burn Center was among only 35 in the United States to be recognized. The Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital is the only burn center in the state of Connecticut, and as such, has an important role to play in Connecticut’s emergency care measures.

“As the events of 9/11 and the more recent Rhode Island nightclub fire remind us, there will always be a need for Burn Centers that can provide care to large numbers of patients with various degrees of injury,” says Michael Ivy, MD, Chief of Trauma, Burns, and Surgical Critical Care. “Bridgeport Hospital’s Burn Center will be a primary treatment site for many of the injuries that can result from most chemical weapons.”

The Burn Center remains on the leading edge of burn care. Currently, experts at the Burn Center are pioneering a new treatment to help burn patients who have been living with severe scars for several months and even years. Burn scar tissue can become so tight, it limits movement of arms, legs, even facial muscles.

“Our goal is to remove old, restrictive scar tissue and temporarily replace it with synthetic skin,” says Dr. Philip Fidler, medical director of the Burn Center. “This can help burn victims grow new, more flexible skin to replace some of their scars.”

Fundraising is currently underway to expand the Center, and to renovate its outpatient treatment wing, where burn patients receive ongoing skin care. Contributions may be sent to the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation, 267 Grant St., Bridgeport, CT 06610.