Philly hand surgeons on devastating fireworks injuries: 'There is nothing left to fix'

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A patient’s hand after surgery to repair a fireworks injury. Surgeons might consider this a best case scenario.

Every year millions of Americans gather for the Fourth of July, celebrating our military heroes, seeing family and friends, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, enjoying pools and beaches, watching parades and, of course, fireworks.

Unfortunately, the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air have proven dangerous for some. The proliferation and ease of access to fireworks has led to an increase in injuries — some devastating.

Fireworks are objects of many shapes and sizes that burn excessively bright, sometimes incorporating a loud explosion, or powering a rocket towards the sky. Every one of these aspects requires intense heat. People are rarely, if ever, exposed to these extreme temperatures, especially in close proximity. Add in the erratic nature of fireworks — that they are only used once or twice a year and are usually unfamiliar to the people lighting them — and there is ample room for accidents to happen.

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Some firework injuries can be minor. Numbing, tingling, ringing in the ears or maybe singed skin and burnt hair.

However, some injuries can be severe and life threatening. And many of the more severe firework injuries my colleagues and I see cannot be fixed.

The hand and upper extremity are particularly at risk since they are used to light and handle the fireworks. The extreme heat fireworks generate can obliterate the fingers and palm. We have seen flesh and bone burnt off or destroyed. In those cases, there is nothing left to fix or reconstruct. Blood loss can be severe, making lifelong injury almost certain. We do what we can with what’s left, but a hand badly injured by fireworks is rarely ever the same, even with the extensive rehabilitation usually required after an accident.

>> READ MORE: For Pa. woman, fireworks destroyed one eye, almost two

There has never been a firework display, even the grandest of grand finales, that is worth permanent disability.

This Fourth of July, celebrate America safely and leave the fireworks to the professionals. We are fortunate to live in a region where professional local fireworks shows are abundant. These professionals have proper training and safety equipment to safely light up the night for one and all.

Michael Rivlin, M.D. is a hand and wrist surgeon at Rothman Institute. His colleagues Pedro Beredjiklian, Asif Ilyas, Charlie Leinberry and Daniel Fletcher contributed to this article.