What started as just two kids “messing around” in their family’s driveway one sunny day in July 10 years ago, ended with one of the boys sustaining burns covering 75 percent of his small body and introduced the family to the world of burn treatment, according to DataCeutics’ CEO Matt Ferdock.
That brief moment, which changed the course of all of their lives, also gave Matt a new focus: helping to fund access and development of burn scar therapy.
His sons — Vinny, then 7 and Andy, 11 — were experimenting with burning rubbing alcohol and, not realizing that they couldn’t see the flames in bright light, ignited fumes and caused an explosion.
“I was going into the house and heard this sucking sound,” Matt said, explaining the noise was coming from fumes being inhaled into a can that his older son was holding. “As soon as I turned around, I saw a huge ball of flames shooting out of the top of the can that Andy was holding away from himself and pointing directly at my younger son.”
Matt said he went into “automatic mode” and ran towards Vinny, who was caught in a fireball. “It went all over him,” recalled Matt. “Vinny starts screaming and I can’t see the flames but see that his hair is curling.”
Matt threw himself on top of his son, burning the left side of his own body, and then picked Vinny up and started running towards a rain barrel they kept alongside their garage nearby. “Vinny brushed up against the garage door and his skin came off like a shirt and stuck to the door,” said Matt.
He plunged Vinny into the rain barrel and brought him into the house to call 911 and soon the boy was being airlifted to the Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Regional Burn Center in Allentown, PA, about an hour’s drive from where they lived.
Matt’s wife, Lori, flew with their son in the helicopter to the hospital and when Matt arrived later, she told him, “Vinny might not make it.”
“I collapsed,” said Matt, who would later learn that any burn covering more than 15 percent of a body was considered life-threatening and that Vinny’s injuries covered about 72 percent of his body.
Vinny would spend the next 21 days in the hospital, with his parents sleeping alongside him on the floor and a priest coming to administer last rites. During this time, the Ferdocks would come to learn that the Regional Burn Center is one of the top-ranking burn centers in the nation. They would also discover that Vinny’s surgeon, Dr. Sigrid Blome-Eberwein, was one of the leading plastic surgeons in the country specializing in burn scar treatment.
“I’m passionate about finding new ways to coax scars into becoming more like normal skin,” Blome-Eberwein said, adding that scar treatment research was still in “its infancy.”
Matt and his partner, company president Paul Gilbert, created the Scar Physiology, Treatment, and Research Fund through DataCeutics to help Blome-Eberwein develop laser treatments to modify the appearance of scars and make scar tissue softer. The non-directed fund allows companies to provide financial support without worrying about bias and frees Blome-Eberwein to focus on topics she regards as critical, said Matt.
“Our money is puny compared to what she needs,” he explained, “so we’re constantly out there looking for grants, donors, government and corporate funding sources.”
The fund, combined with the Burn Prevention Network, provides educational programming and hosts “burn camps” that help kids with burn injuries to manage, among other things, the strange looks they get from people. “We’re in church and this kid is staring at Vinny and I just want to go over and yell at the kid and Vinny is like, ‘Dad, it’s okay,’” said Matt. “He handles it much better than me.”
Blome-Eberwein agreed that scar treatment requires a holistic approach to patients that addresses both physical and emotional challenges. “You’re not just treating a scar, you’re treating the whole person,” she said.
After a number of surgeries, Vinny was able to return home, but that was not without its challenges.
“You don’t just come home,” said Matt. “It’s not like having a broken arm, where you get the cast off and maybe you’re sore for a little bit and then you’re good to go.”
“Ten years later and we’re still doing surgery,” he added.
Vinny had to learn how to walk again and feed himself and get dressed. There were twice-daily treatments required for years and a “pressure suit” he needed to wear 23 hours a day.
“The 22 days Vinny was hospitalized were intense, but it was more difficult when he came home,” says Vinny’s mom, Lori. “The healing continued for two-and-a-half years.”
Thanks to techniques practiced at the hospital, including the use of TransCyte — a temporary skin substitute that covers the wound and promotes healing — 10 years later Vinny’s face looks “normal,” said Matt.
Tapping into DataCeutics’ expertise in providing statistical analysis on drug products and new research techniques, the company joined forces with the Regional Burn Center and the Burn Prevention Network to support scar treatment research and Blome-Eberwein’s advancements in the field.
“We’ve formed this union to continue to fund research in the area of scar treatment and pain management,” Matt explained. “It’s been a 10-year adventure.”