Many accident victims in Oklahoma City require skin grafts due to burns, road rash, or other serious skin conditions or injuries. Some of the common causes of injuries that necessitate skin grafts include car accidents, truck crashes, motorcycle accidents, oil and gas explosions, construction accidents, and other traumatic incidents. Some skin graft procedures cause some scarring and disfigurement, and many patients who need skin grafts suffer emotionally as well as physically.
What is a skin graft?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a skin graft is a type of surgery where a medical team takes healthy skin from one part of a victim’s body and moves it (transplants it) to the damaged skin area (the skin graft site). The healthy skin essentially replaces or covers the damaged or missing skin. A patient’s recovery time depends on the size of the graft, their health, and the skill of the surgeon. While most skin graft procedures are successful with the first operation, some victims do need subsequent skin grafts.
What is the source of the skin graft?
Providers generally use the victim’s own healthy skin, typically from a nonvisible body location. This type of skin graft is called an autograft. If the victim’s body is too severely damaged or there isn’t enough healthy skin for other reasons, the medical team may use skin from a cadaver, called an allograft. A third source of skin is using the skin from an animal such as a pig (xenograft). Per the Cleveland Clinic, “Allograft and xenograft skin grafts are usually temporary. They cover the damaged skin until the wound heals or the person grows enough healthy skin to use for a permanent skin graft.”
Are there different types of skin graft surgery?
Yes. The three basic types of skin grafts, according to the Cleveland Clinic and Stanford Medicine, are:
- Split-thickness skin graft (STSG). This procedure involves the removal of the top layer of skin (epidermis) and just part of the second layer (dermis). This procedure is used when large areas of skin are damaged or missing. The source of the skin is usually the patient’s thigh, bottom, belly, or back. The donor skin (the source of the transplanted skin) usually heals within a week or two. The treated area generally takes longer.
- Full-thickness skin graft (FTSG). This procedure involves the removal and transplant of the victim’s epidermis and the entire dermis layer. Since the transplanted skin is thicker, the healing time for an FTSG procedure is longer. This procedure may be used if the damaged/missing skin area is a part of the body that is visible while the victim is clothed, such as the face. The donor skin is usually the “groin, arm, or collarbone area.”
- Composite graft. This procedure involves transplant skin, cartilage, or other soft tissues. This procedure is used to repair the nose, ears, or fingertips.
What happens before, during, and after skin graft surgery?
Before your surgery – unless the procedure is an emergency procedure, which many accident procedures are – patients may be told to stop taking blood thinners and stop smoking. If possible, the patient and surgeon discuss what donor skin will be used.
The surgery is normally performed in a hospital under general anesthesia – though small grafts may be done with local anesthesia. The surgeon removes healthy skin from the donor site (unless a cadaver or animal is used). Surgeons use a technique called meshing to help “stretch the skin over a larger area.” The donor skin is secured over the damaged/missing skin area with stitches or staples and a dressing.
After the surgery, the healthcare providers will monitor you for signs of infection and to make sure both the graft site and donor site are healing properly. Some patients may need to be hospitalized for up to two weeks.
What at-home instructions should burn injury patients follow after a skin graft?
Your healthcare providers may ask you, once you are sent home, to:
- Wear a cover or dressing over the wounds and may recommend aloe vera cream or an antibiotic cream (such as Bacitracin).
- Keep the wound protected, including restraining from any physical activity or exercises that could stretch the skin.
- Take pain management medications or other drugs to reduce inflammation or prevent infection.
- Keep your follow-up appointments.
Your doctors may also recommend a physical therapy program to “improve the skin’s elasticity and prevent scar tissue from building up on the graft site.”
What are the advantages and risks of a skin graft?
Skin grafts replace lost skin, restore function, and improve the victim’s appearance. The risks involved with skin graft surgery include the need for a second skin graft if the first surgery doesn’t take. Other risks include infections, the pooling of blood or pus underneath the transplanted skin, and damage to the graft site.
Other complications include bleeding, blood circulation problems (especially if the victim is a smoker), skin contracture, uneven or patchy skin, increased or decreased pain sensitivity, chronic pain, and scar tissue. Generally, it takes a few weeks for the skin graft to fully heal. Your doctor will explain the likely healing time for your injuries.
The Cleveland Clinic warns that “children who have skin graft surgery may need another procedure as they grow. Sometimes, the transplanted skin doesn’t grow and stretch along with the child’s skin.”
Our Oklahoma City personal injury lawyers are dedicated to restoring your health and finances to the place they were before your burn injury accident happened. At Cunningham & Mears, we demand compensation for all your medical bills, financial losses, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of function. To assert your right to compensation from those who caused you harm, fill out our contact form or call 405-232-1212 today for a free initial consultation.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More