In 1998, Adam Dalton, one day shy of his 12th birthday, soaked a pile of burning leaves with paint thinner. The can ignited, and he was badly injured. Much of his body become covered with third-degree burns.
48 Hours Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports on what happened next.
"When he poured it, the flames shot up the stream and into the bottle, and it exploded," said Adam's mother Kym. "It sounded almost like a shotgun. When I saw him, all I saw was flames."
"I was scared to death, because I knew he was burned bad," she said.
Adam was brought by helicopter to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, where the trauma team mobilized to save him. The hospital is specially equipped to handle children's injuries.
There Adam told doctors he was very cold, which worried them. They realized they were confronting two threats to Adam's survival. Without all of his skin, he began to lose both water and heat. They had to keep him both warm and hydrated. Doctors were also concerned that Adam's throat could swell and cut off his air supply.
After minutes of intense work, the doctors stabilized Adam. At that point, his parents arrived at the hospital. Adam immediately apologized for playing with fire.
"We're not mad, Baby, not at all," his mother said. "Not at all. I don't care right now. I don't care." Wally Dalton, a painter who had warned his son many times not to play with flammable liquids, also told Adam that he wasn't mad.
A Tremendous Need
Pediatric emergency rooms are sprouting up all over the country. "We are growing very rapidly, and there's a tremendous need out there," said Dr. Robert Shapiro, a 17-year veteran of pediatric emergency medicine. Downstairs, Ryan got an X-ray, which revealed a broken thigh bone. He had to wear a body cast for six to eight weeks. ©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
"Just like the adult facility's uncomfortable taking care of kids, we're uncomfortable taking care of adults," he said.
Cincinnati Children's is one of the country's busiest, treating tens of thousands of kids every year. It tries to create an atmosphere that makes its patients feel comfortable. "We try to be less of a frightening atmosphere for kids," Dr. Shapiro said.
The equipment is also designed for smaller bodies: "When a child comes in and needs assistance with breathing, one of these tubes gets placed into the airway," Shapiro said. "And depending on the size of the child, the tube varies. Smaller child, smaller tube."
Everyone here, from the respiratory therapist to the nurses, and even Shapiro, has specialized training in pediatric emergency medicine.
To work in this ER, it pays to be a bit of a child yourself. The walls here are decorated with pictures of monkeys, and those who work here often give their patients lollipops and Popsicles.
Dr. Shapiro understands the power of family. He and his wife Elaine have three children. He said, however, he tries to keep a professional distance from his patients.
"Thmajority of times for the kids I see, I'm better off if I don't internalize it, if I don't identify with it," he said. "It's not so good when we emotionally get caught up in our patients' pain and injuries." But he admitted he can't always shield himself from his patients' agony.
After being stabilized, Adam was transferred to Shriners Burn Institute, a nationally recognized burn center next to Children's Hospital. At that time, Dr. Shapiro had a new patient to take care of: Ryan Stoneberger, then 2 1/2, had been brought in after falling down some steps.
Ryan was in pain, but couldn't tell the doctor where he hurt.
To distract his young patient, Dr. Shapiro asked him what he ate for breakfast. He asked Ryan if he put syrup on his pancakes. "I talk to the child about anything I think the child might be distracted by," he noted.
"This is what pediatrics is about," he said afterward. "It's how to get your answers in a young child who's uncooperative and who's afraid."
Often kids come in with problems adults rarely have. Samantha Nace brought in her daughter, Rebecca, then 10, after she swallowed a coin.
"She was asleep, and when we woke up, she was gasping for air," said Samantha Nace. "We weren't sure if she just wasn't breathing or if she was choking on something. I thought she just wasn't breathing."
An X-ray confirmed that a coin was stuck in her food pipe. The doctor, Marlene Cousins, said that Rebecca could breathe fine but was probably having a hard time swallowing.
"We've seen kids with plastic balls, with all sorts of objects that they swallow," said Dr. Cousins, who decided to operate to remove the coin. Surgeons removed it with a tiny pair of forceps. With the penny removed, Rebecca could go home, and her mother could relax a little.
The next morning at Shriners Hospital, there was more good news, for Adam Dalton and his parents. The swelling had gone down, he was more alert, and he was breathing more on his own.
"Even through this, we're still thankful, very thankful that we've got him, and that he's with us, and we get to take him home soon," said Wally Dalton, choking back tears.
Downstairs, Ryan got an X-ray, which revealed a broken thigh bone. He had to wear a body cast for six to eight weeks.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed