A tiny hovel on the outskirts of a dusty provincial town in Madhyar Pradesh State in India is home to an impoverished family of six. Dirt floors, no sanitation, no beds (they sleep on the floor) and no electricity. Sun-baked cow dung seals the cracks in the paper thin walls. There is a lighted kerosene cooker in the centre of the room.
Five year old Pawan runs into the room and knocks over the cooker which explodes and drenches him in flames. He suffers severe burns to 40% of his body. He is taken to a Burns Unit in a large private hospital that philanthropically admits a limited number of impoverished burns victims for free treatment.
But there is a catch.
The burn must be healed in a week, (an impossible task in most cases), after which the patient will be sent home. (Imagine that happening in Australia). As he is from a poor family, follow up treatment is highly unlikely. The unhygienic surroundings and high risk of infection will threaten his survival.
Many of these children (and adults) don’t even make it to a hospital and die at home from their infected, untreated wounds.
Visiting Pawan’s bedside on day 4, the hospital surgeon told me, “His only chance” (of survival) “is for me to put a skin graft over the burn. But the wound is infected, so the graft won’t take. Also, I won’t have enough donor skin even if I could do it. Do you think the wheatgrass spray would help? He must be discharged in three days.”
Having seen wheatgrass heal many kinds of wounds, including some pretty nasty burns, I said I was sure it would.
At the surgeon’s request, I sprayed a small area at one corner of the infected area of full thickness skin loss. The boy winced a little and in a few minutes reported that it felt better.
The following day, the surgeon called to say that overnight, the infection had cleared up, the wound surface was no longer losing fluid, and a graft would not be necessary. Two days later, his burns had recovered so well, he was discharged to return to the Outpatient Department for dressing changes.
I think it is fair to say that wheatgrass saved this young boy’s life.
Dr. Chris Reynolds.