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April 2008 Issue

For Burn Patients, a Place to Heal
A Portland, Oregon, burn center creates the first healing garden in the nation for burn patients.

By Clare Cooper Marcus

For Burn Patients, a Place to Heal Legacy Health System

After his fiery accident, Mike Callahan was strapped down to a gurney for 23 hours a day in the Oregon Burn Center. Now he’s back for skin grafts.

“It took four days before I could even put my feet on the ground,” says Callahan. “It was a major accomplishment to get outside to the garden, even for a few minutes. But I felt so refreshed. Now I come out every day, even when the pain medication makes me feel nauseated. I’m a gardener at home. Every day I find another favorite spot here, another unusual plant to smell. I was out six times yesterday!”

The Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon, provides care for patients with burns and skin-destroying diseases and is the only facility of its kind between Seattle and Sacramento. It is also the first hospital in the nation to offer a therapeutic garden specifically for burn survivors. In 2006, the garden received a Therapeutic Garden Design Award from the American Horticultural Therapy Association.

The garden is enclosed on two sides by a two-story building. Rooms for burn patients are on the first floor, looking out at the garden.

“For those who are unconscious (and some are kept in a medically induced coma for days), the garden may be the first view they wake up to,” says Kathleen Johnson, an occupational therapist. “It is very calming for them to look out the window and perhaps identify birds or plants. When the patient is stable enough, the doctor will write a prescription: ‘Take them out in the garden.’ They are often foggy from medication and trauma and may have been on a ventilator. It helps them to be able to breathe fresh air again. I give them rosemary to smell, ask them to read some of the plant labels, give them choices—‘Do you want to sit in the shade?’”

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