When she was 14 months old, curiosity got the better of Keri McLaughlin. She wanted to know what an electrical cord on her kitchen table was attached to. So she grabbed it and found out the hard way that it belonged to a full coffee maker.
Keri suffered burns from the hot coffee on her right shoulder, face, neck, and chest. She was treated at target Boston Shriners Hospital, one of a network of Shriners Hospitals that offers free medical services to burn patients and their families.
The toddler Keri, now 25, was hospitalized for three weeks. Though she cannot remember the actual incident, she has a constant reminder of it: a skin graft on her shoulder.
In addition to the third-degree burn on her shoulder, Keri also had superficial second-degree burns on her face and deep second-degree burns on her chest and under her neck. Fortunately, all but the skin on her shoulder healed on its own.
While she was hospitalized, Keri underwent a skin graft procedure. Healthy skin was taken from her right buttock and secured over the injury site on her shoulder. She had to wear a pressure garment for a year afterward to protect her new skin.
Growing up, she felt self-conscious about her burned shoulder. “I did not start opening up about it until I did a project for biology class in high school,” Keri says. “We had to pick a topic that held a specific interest for us. That was the first time I ever started looking at my burn clinically and not personally."
Her last major trip to Shriners as a patient came when she was 20 years old. “Around that time I was in college and gaining a couple pounds here and there,” Keri says. “As I gained some weight in my arm, the scar was getting tighter. I was also getting some numbness and tingling from my arm down to my hand. There was a really tight band across my shoulder.” So she went in for scar revision surgery. Instead of adding more skin, the doctors were able to make her arm more comfortable using only stitches.
Soon after the operation, Keri graduated from college with a degree in Occupational Therapy. After a stint working for the Galveston Shriners Hospital in Texas, Keri moved back to the Boston area to work for the people who had worked for her so many years ago.