Our skin is the largest human organ. It enables us to have our sense of touch, acts as a shield to protect us from heat and cold, and from environmental factors such as chemicals, ultraviolet radiation and bacteria.
Under normal conditions, our skin is able to mend itself from daily wear and tear. However, when skin gets too badly burnt or damaged, it is unable to repair itself without help.
In Singapore, the SGH Burns Centre treats approximately 200 patients each year. Most of them suffer from burn injuries due to industrial or domestic accidents. They include toddlers scalded by hot water at home and adults badly burnt by chemicals or flames. About 10% of these patients sustain major burns.
Hence, donated skin is the way to help promoting wound healing.
Donated skin is used as a temporary dressing for severe burns patients who do not have enough healthy skin on their body that the surgeon can use to graft onto their wounds. The donated skin helps relieve the patient's pain and discomfort, prevents risk of infection and minimises fluid loss.
Without skin transplant, many severe burns patients could succumb to severe infection, leading to mortality.
Skin is recovered from deceased donors. In order for the tissue to be useful, recovery is done within 15 hours from the time of death. The screening process for a potential donor includes reviewing of all donor medical records, physical examination and blood sampling for infectious diseases.
Using special instruments, only the outer skin is recovered. The thickness of the skin recovered is about 0.04cm, leaving approximately 85% of the donor's skin still intact.
The recovered skin pieces are processed, individually packed and specially stored at temperatures ranging from -70oC to -196oC, for up to 5 years.
The donor's body is treated with utmost respect at all times. Skin is typically recovered from the deceased donor's back and lower limbs. 85% of the skin structure remains intact therefore disfigurement and bleeding are minimal. The family members of the deceased can also choose the areas in which the skin is recovered. After recovery, an open casket funeral remains as an option for the donor.