Mother breaks down after seeing daughter's severe burns from heat packs

SINGAPORE - Playing alone at home, the two-year-old presses the scars that cover her body.  She tries to rub them off, hoping they will disappear, but they never do.

And it breaks her mummy's heart every time she does that.

Although still a toddler, Alya (not her real name) knows she is different from everyone else and it's because of this that her mother can't forgive those responsible for her condition.

The scars that cling to her body stubbornly are the result of an accident at her babysitter's home. It landed the babysitter's husband in jail for negligence.

On Oct 31, 2011, Alya was at Madam Mardianah's home when the latter found her lying on some heat packs that had been immersed in hot water.

According to court documents, her husband, Mohammad Shahrin Akbar, 31, had placed the packs on a bed to cool them and the baby somehow ended up on top of them.

He was jailed for three months last Wednesday after pleading guilty to causing grievous hurt through a negligent act.

The court ordered that the baby's identity not be revealed.

Alya suffered burns to 35 per cent of her body, including her face, neck, upper limbs, chest, back, thighs and buttocks. She was hospitalised till Jan 6 last year, undergoing 12 operations and needs long-term scar management therapy.

Last week, The New Paper spoke to Madam Mardianah, 30, who gave us her version of the accident.

Alya's mother has now come out to dispute some parts of her story.

Speaking to TNP last Friday, Madam Farah (not her real name), 31, said that although the accident happened almost two years ago, she finds it difficult to forgive the couple for what had happened to her only child.

The single mother, a management trainee at a food and beverage (F&B) company, said: "I don't think they have been telling me the truth. When they first called me shortly after the accident, they said that my daughter burnt herself after she slipped and fell on her back.

"Later, they said that she was found lying on some heat packs. The story changes all the time. I will forgive them only if they tell me the truth."

When contacted on Sunday, Madam Mardianah declined to comment and said: "Ask the investigation officer."

Madam Farah also disputed Madam Mardianah's claims that she had left her child at the babysitter's often.

She said: "She made me look like a bad mother. How dare she say that she had taken care of Alya for almost a year and that I had left my daughter at her flat for weeks at a time. This is nonsense. I had never done such a thing."

She said that Madam Mardianah, whom she referred to as "Dian", had taken care of Alya only from early August 2011 until late October that year.

Madam Farah also said that her daughter had stayed overnight at the baby sitter's flat only for a maximum of two nights at a time.

Shift work

And this, she said had taken place only about five times, on occasions when Madam Farah, who was then working for another F&B company, had to work the night shift, followed by an early morning shift the next day.

"I love my daughter very much and cannot bear being separated from her. If I could take my daughter along to work, I would," said Madam Farah who lives in a two-room flat in the east with her mother and three single younger brothers.

The eldest child and the only girl among six siblings, Madam Farah said that back then, her mother was working as a security officer, working up to 12 hours a day and could not take care of Alya.

She also disputed Madam Mardianah's claims that the babysitter had bought her daughter items such as a pram and clothes.

Madam Farah, who earns about $1,500 a month said she had bought all those items, on top of paying the babysitter $500 a month, and not $350 to $400 as Madam Mardianah had claimed.

Madam Mardianah Sunday acknowledged that it was possible she had been paid $500 monthly, but claimed she couldn't remember now as it was some time ago.

Madam Farah remembers the day she got the call about the accident from Madam Mardianah, while at work.

She dropped everything at work and rushed to KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

And when she saw her daughter in pain with a large part of her back burned pink and raw, all she could do was bawl her eyes out.

From that day, Madam Farah made the hospital her home for more than two months until Alya was discharged on Jan 6 last year.

Madam Farah said: "I didn't go home at all and my family members would come to hospital to pass me whatever I needed like clothes and such... I could not leave her side. She needed me."

Madam Farah is now saddled with hospital bills totalling $30,000 and so far, she has managed to settle about half of it, paying in instalments.

Alya, who will turn three in July, was bubbly and active at home despite the huge scars that cover her arms, back, buttocks and legs.

Said Madam Farah: "The doctor told me that the scars will fade over time. Even though she is still very young, she is starting to notice that her some parts of her skin are not smooth like mine.

"Sometimes, when she is playing alone at home, Alya will stop and press on the scars and try to rub them away. But of course they won't disappear. It breaks my heart whenever I see her doing that."

Pointing to a palm-sized shiny patch of skin on her daughter's scalp, she said: "Hair will never grow here again. But I'm always thankful that she is alive and her face had not been disfigured."

As if on cue, Alya picked up a hand mirror nearby to study her reflection on the reflective surface.

Seemingly pleased with what she saw, she broke into a toothy grin, toddled over to her mother and hugged her tight.

Planting a kiss on her daughter's cheek, Madam Farah said softly: "Yes, you are my pretty girl."

 Burns potentially fatal: Plastic surgeon

Burns potentially fatal: Plastic surgeon

The little girl suffered burns on 35 per cent of her body and required surgery.

This suggests that she had suffered third-degree burns over a large area, said plastic surgeon Dr J J Chua.

The doctor who runs JJ Chua Rejuvenative Cosmetic and Laser Surgery added that such burns can be potentially fatal.

Dr Chua, who is not involved in treating the girl, said that a burn is considered to have covered a large area if it affects more than 10 per cent of a child's body.

He explained that almost the whole thickness of the skin is affected in a third-degree burn and scars will definitely appear when the skin heals.

Only third-degree burns require surgery, said Dr Chua.

He added: "The skin cannot heal by itself in third-degree burns. The doctor has to cut away the dead skin. He will then perform skin grafts about two weeks or a month later."

Dr Chua said that skin grafts encourage healing and this can take months.

He added that Alya's joints may be affected because of the burns and she may need physiotherapy so that she can move normally again.

"The girl may also feel some itching or tightness to her skin. In this case, the mother can reduce the symptoms by applying moisturiser or sunblock to ease the girl's discomfort," said Dr Chua.

When a child gets burned...

When a child gets burned...

Do not take chances when a young child suffers burns on his or her body.

If in doubt, just rush the child down to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) unit of the nearest hospital.

That was the advice given by general practitioner (GP) Dr Muhammad Iqmal Abdullah who runs Wan Medical Clinic.

He said: "A young child needs immediate attention if the burn is on vulnerable parts of the body like the genitals, mouth, face and neck - especially at places that can swell up and affect breathing.

"The severity and size of the burn are important too. A young child that has a third degree burn on more than five per cent of the total body surface area has to be sent to the A&E immediately."

He also said that GPs like him can assess burns and treat minor ones.

In the event of a burn, he advised placing the affected part under a running tap for about 10 minutes to cool the area down before seeking medical attention.

CEO of the Singapore First Aid Training Centre, Mr Edwin Leong, said that after cooling the affected area with room temperature water, constrictive materials like bracelets and watches must also be taken off.

That's because the skin can swell up and such accessories can cut into the skin.

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