NEW LIVES FOR BURNED WOMEN #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut According to the World Health Organization four million women a year are severely burned; more than half of them live in Southeast Asia, and almost all live in poverty. The burns are excruciating and often crippling, even life-threatening. And yet proper burn treatment is all but nonexistent for the world’s poor. Chandini Perera MD is changing that in Sri Lanka. Perera is a plastic surgeon who does reconstructive surgery on her country’s burn victims, and helps them rebuild their lives in a society that considers them outcasts. She has established Sri Lanka’s only burn center, a place where burn victims, usually women who are desperately poor, receive the surgery, treatment, and rehabilitation that are often necessary for a burn victim to have a productive life. Within a day of receiving a burn that affects 20% or more of the body, the victim goes into shock. If the burn isn’t treated, the skin contracts and affected parts of the body become fused. “Then the person becomes disabled, truly disfigured,” Perera said. “A severe burn is a painful condition,” Perera has said, “emotionally and physically. The treatment is painful. The follow-up is painful. The response from society is painful. Burn survivors are like someone with a terminal illness, except that they don’t die. They actually live, but you can’t see them. They can’t come out because society will not accept them.” Perera’s work is not highly valued, even within the medical community. She has trouble getting other sections of her own hospital to allow burn victims into their waiting rooms because their disfigurement is considered an ill omen. Treating burn victims is a low priority for most other plastic surgeons, she reports. They want the satisfaction of making their patients beautiful. “You can’t make a burn beautiful,” Perera said, “but you can make it better. You take a person who has been deformed or crippled or defaced, and you’re able to make that person better. That person can be functional again. Then it’s the beauty of the person who has survived all of this that comes out.” Burns are the only injury that happens more frequently to women than to men. Some severe burns happen by accident where open fires are used for cooking. Some burns—all of the acid burns—are domestic violence or homicidal acts. But fully 75 percent of the burns Perera treats are self-inflicted by women who have been so abused and crushed by the circumstances of their lives that they’ve tried to kill themselves. Perera speaks out publicly about violence against women, a subject people do not want to hear about, but she feels the most important work she does is to encourage and empower women who felt their only option was self-immolation. The needs Perera is trying to meet are at times overwhelming and the work itself can be exhausting. There were times, especially in the beginning, when she wanted to quit. But the satisfactions of the work keep her going. “In the clinic a really good day for me,” Perera said, “is when a patient who has been seriously burned, has been depressed, comes in with a smile, dressed well, and says, ‘Did you know my children are in school… I’ve just started a business.’ With that they’ve just given me so much more than I ever gave them. They’ve given me something I could never buy.” Chandini Perera has helped heal and empower more than 15,000 burn victims. You can follow her work at http://www.resurge.org/transforming_lives/story_kanchana.cfm Photo by fellow Giraffe Hero Phil Borges. Like this Giraffe? LIKE this Page. Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes.