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.
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.