Boy's burn experience leads to roles in video, comic book

March 29, 2017
Ten year old boy poses in his kitchen
Lucas Parra stands near the stove where he was accidentally burned three years ago. He was a consultant on the comic book that's lying on the counter in front of him. Photo by Sarah Pack

Ten-year-old Lucas Parra, burned in a kitchen accident three years ago, stars in a new burn prevention video and helped create a comic book that's being distributed to schools across South Carolina. "I want other people to be safe and not have the same thing happen to them," the Charleston fourth-grader said.

The video and comic book are part of a larger effort, funded by a $200,000 grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation and awarded to pediatric burn surgeon Aaron Lesher and the MUSC Children's Health burn team, to protect kids from burns and make it easier for children who are burned to get expert care without having to travel far. The video and comic book are being distributed through the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium's outreach system.

As the video begins, Lucas tells a story that's likely to leave a lot of parents thinking, "That could have been my child."

cartoon image of a boy standing on a stool in front of stove with a pot on as his mother looks on.
The full video, "What Not to Heat: How to Keep Kids Safe in the Kitchen," is on the Vimeo website

"I was in the kitchen with my mom while she was making spaghetti for dinner,” he says. “I used to use a stool to reach the counter to make a drink because I was pretty small. I was standing on the stool to make some chocolate milk and the stool came out from underneath me. On the way down, I hit the pot of boiling water."

The water splashed onto the right side of his body, causing third degree burns to his arm and shoulder. Lucas was in the MUSC Children's Hospital for a week and ultimately needed skin grafts. 

Today the scars are visible but don't bother him, his mother said in an interview. 

It doesn't limit him at all. Any time someone asks him about his scars, he usually takes it in stride and sometimes uses it as an opportunity," Ashlee Parra said. "He went to talk to his class afterward about what not to do."

So Lucas, a creative boy who loves the arts and is part of the Charleston Youth Company, was a natural fit for the burn prevention education campaign. 

cover art for a burn safety comic showing flames overtaking a pumpkin, fireworks, Christmas decorations and a menorah
The full comic can be downloaded at the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium website.

In the comic book, "Burns don't take a holiday," Lucas' smiling face appears on the inside cover with a speech balloon telling parents: "Read it with your children." Lucas' brother Nico also helped with the comic book and has his picture in it too. Both boys are listed as sources of inspiration for it.

The story involves a family celebrating the holidays and navigating burn hazards ranging from hot cooking oil to candles to sparklers. A talking fire hose named Fred and a fire hydrant show the family where it's going wrong and give safety tips

Pediatric burn nurse Ryan Howard said it's exciting to see MUSC Children's Health, the only place in the state with a burn unit for kids, reach children across South Carolina with the education materials. "We have 22,000 copies of the comic book that are spoken for." 

Ragan DuBose-Morris, director of the Office for Telehealth Education at the South Carolina AHEC and MUSC, said school nurses will help hand out the comic books to kids. "We're hoping to reach as many of the low-income, rural and Title I schools in South Carolina as we can with a nice geographic distribution, so we're not just focusing in the Lowcountry or the Pee Dee area."

Howard is the program coordinator for the grant funding the work. The grant came with several goals in addition to the creation of the educational comic book and video. They include:

  • Developing an app to connect the parents of children who have been burned with nurses and doctors, so families don't have to make as many follow-up trips to MUSC Children's Health. The app includes videos showing parents how to dress burn injuries, answers to frequently asked questions and the chance to talk with doctors and nurses using technology similar to FaceTime or Skype.
  • Offering telehealth to more rural hospitals, giving them access to MUSC Health burn specialists via secure video consultations that can be done right at patients' bedsides. Doctors say telehealth can improve patients' recovery and reduce the need to transport kids from their local hospital to Charleston. MUSC Health has a statewide Center for Telehealth that's been working on this.
  • Using school clinics to reach about 2,000 kids through live and videotaped education sessions with MUSC Health burn specialists.

Lesher said the grant allows MUSC Children's Health to reach and protect children across the state. "With help from this generous grant from the BlueCross BlueShield Foundation, we are able to find a new way to deliver expert burn care for the children of South Carolina and develop a robust burn prevention strategy."

Howard hopes that strategy will keep kids from being burned in the first place. "We actually want to see fewer patients."

Lucas likes being part of the campaign. "I'm a big talker," he said. "I just wanted to talk to them."

Safety tips from "Burns don't take a holiday":

  • Avoid Halloween costumes with long or fluttering fabric that can catch on things, including candles
  • Use battery-operated candles in holiday decorations such as pumpkins
  • Put candles far from anything that can burn
  • Don't leave cooking food unattended
  • Don't run or play near a stove
  • Avoid wearing loose clothes while you're cooking
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll
  • Stay away from open flames