Now, seven years later, she still remembers the day as if it was yesterday. It was a cold and rainy morning in June 2011. She had just arrived at work when she received a call from her son’s crèche - he had been badly burnt by a paraffin heater.
By the time she got to the crèche, he had already been rushed to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital with third-degree burns.
“When I got to the hospital, I just cried and screamed. It was not as minor as I was told. He was so badly burnt that I had to identify him by looking at other parts of his body because his face and hands were not recognisable,” said Tyeku.
Milani had suffered about 40% burns to his body and face, and smoke inhalation, and the burn wounds on his scalp were so deep that his hair never grew back.
Seven years later, Milani’s skin hasn’t healed - and he is required to go to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital often for treatment, including extensive skin grafts to replace the skin on his skull.
“He has lost all the skin tissue, causing his skull to be exposed and prone to infection. He cannot completely close his eyes because while he was healing, his skin contracted, causing tightness,” Tyeku said.
Milani is one of the 3500 children who are treated in the burns outpatient clinic at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital each year.
About 1300 of these cases are severe burns. Children’s skin is thinner than adults’ and burns more deeply at lower temperatures, making them susceptible to harsher burns with long-term effects.
The hospital is the only specialised paediatric burns unit in Africa. Most of these patients are from poor and marginalised communities and a third are younger than a year.
The hospital’s patients are referred from the Western Cape, the rest of South Africa, and Africa.
Burns are in the spotlight this month as May is Burns Awareness Month to highlight the importance of burns prevention and how to treat burns.
While some burn victims recover, others, like Milani, still live with the after-effects.
“Milani is very insecure now, he complains about people looking at him all the time and wonders if he will ever be a normal child again,” said Tyeku.
Dr Gary Dos Passos from the hospital’s burns unit said more opportunities to provide information on burns, and prevention messages, should be made available. Some of the burns could be prevented if caution was observed.
Another burn victim is Precious Sinxo, 5, from Joe Slovo Park in Milnerton. She was playing with matches with a friend when she burnt her legs.
Her mother, Caroline Sinxo, said all she remembered about the day was hearing her child crying and seeing her wet and full of sand.
“She was wearing tight leggings and a tight top, so when the matchstick fell on her, the tights caught fire quickly, burning her legs.
“She couldn’t take them off, all she did was scream and watch the fire, until people came with sand and water,” said Sinxo.
Passos said over the years they had seen fatal burn cases that happened when kids played together.
“We can never stress how important it is for parents to make their homes fire safe to avoid such incidents. Keep kettles, and their cords, on high counter tops where toddlers cannot reach. Don’t leave toddlers unattended anywhere near a recently boiled kettle.”
The most common burns were caused by kettle-related injuries, he said. He advised that when running a bath, you always check the temperature before putting a child in.
“This seems obvious, but we see immersion injuries quite often, so we advise parents not to leave their children unattended near a hot bath. They can climb in and get severely burnt.”
Children must also not play near electrical substations. These should be properly closed off as devastating high voltage injuries can occur.
To treat any of burn injuries, hold the child under tap water for five minutes to let skin cool down.