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What if fireworks meant no texting for life?

Loyola trauma surgeon says hand, finger injuries most common in firework accidents

MAYWOOD, Ill. (June 20) - As Independence Day nears, emergency departments and trauma centers nationwide already are beginning to treat patients injured by fireworks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hand and finger damage are the most common fireworks injuries and account for 32 percent of all reported injuries.

That can have huge financial, social and emotional implications. It can also change how you communicate for life.

“Losing a finger can mean no more texting, which really resonates with people today as a deterrent to risky summer behavior,” said John Santaniello, MD, a trauma surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center. “Lighting up YouTube with an awesome pyrotechnical display for your friends may result in blowing off your thumb, ending for good your ability to communicate using a handheld device."

One report of seven states revealed that the average hospital stay from a fireworks-related finger, thumb or lower arm amputation was $15,600. Total costs for all fireworks-related injuries in this study were estimated at $1.4 million.

Also prevalent are head and eye injuries, which account for 19 percent and 18 percent of total reported injuries, respectively.

“Fireworks are basically explosives and all are capable of causing severe injuries, but even minor injuries can cause significant functional disability when it comes to hand and eye function,” said Santaniello, a former Marine. “Fireworks are not toys."

Legal fireworks are still very dangerous because they burn as hot as a household match and can ignite clothing and cause burn injuries if used improperly. Sparklers burn at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit at their center.

“Even fireworks that are classified as ‘safer,’ such as bottle rockets and sparklers, are responsible for some of the most serious wounds treated by emergency physicians,” said Santaniello, an Emergency Department trauma surgeon who is also a professor of Surgery at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood.

In states that have been experiencing droughts, the stakes are even higher.

“Droughts bring an added risk of danger as sparks ignite highly combustible matter, such as grass and roofing,” Santaniello warned. In 2010, fireworks caused an estimated 15,500 reported fires, resulting in eight civilian deaths, 60 injuries and $36 million in direct property damage, according to the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks.
Here are some tips to help keep safe while celebrating Independence Day:

  • If you choose to use legal fireworks, carefully read and follow all directions on the packaging.
  • Plan safe activities for children. Give them glow-in-the-dark wands and noisemakers as substitutes for sparklers and firecrackers.
  • Teach children about the dangers of fireworks and other explosives. Discourage children from lighting them and set a good example by never using fireworks yourself.
  • If you find explosive substances around your home, call the local fire department’s nonemergency line for disposal guidelines. Do not dispose of them or explode them yourself. Too many unknown factors like age, moisture levels and amount of explosive material make them dangerous and unpredictable.
  • Never underestimate the inventiveness of children who sometimes try to concoct homemade devices. Keep potentially hazardous materials like lighter fluid, charcoal lighter and gasoline out of their reach.
  • Never approach a fireworks device after it has been lighted, even if it appears to have gone out. It is likely to still be excessively hot and may explode unexpectedly.
  • Consider safe alternatives for celebrations. Check the newspapers for community fireworks displays handled by professionals or hold a celebration at home where you can supervise your children’s holiday festivities.
  • If an injury occurs, call 911 or the local emergency phone number. Get immediate medical aid from experts who specialize in treating burns and other traumatic injuries.
    Make sure any area where firework debris may land is not dry, especially due to drought.
  • Keep fire extinguishers and water hoses at hand, BUT always call 911 immediately if a fire starts.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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Stasia Thompson
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