UNC Surgeons Open Malawian Burn Unit

Two surgeons with the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals recently returned from a two-week trip to Malawi in southern Africa where they opened a burn center in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Dr. Anthony Charles (Courtesy of UNC News Services)

Dr. Anthony Charles (Courtesy of UNC News Services)

“We go to Malawi not with the intention of essentially creating an American emergency room, we just want to make whatever they have there work, work better, and any new technology that we may bring is just to make life easier for everybody,” says Dr. Anthony Charles, the Director of the Adult ECMO Program and Associate Professor of Surgery with specialties in trauma, critical care, and acute care surgery.

***Listen to the Full Interview with Dr. Charles and Medical Director, Dr. Bruce Cairns***

ECMO is the process of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or heart and lung bypass.

Dr. Charles is a native of Nigeria. He has traveled to Malawi since 2007 and says, although a lot of attention is given to HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, trauma kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Dr. Charles and Jaycee Burn Center Medial Director Bruce Cairns—who also serves as the faculty chair at UNC—were recently in Malawi for two weeks. The doctors made the trip to open and dedicate a burn unit and burn operating room in Malawi’s Kamuzu Central Hospital.

“I think one of the most unique things about that hospital in Malawi is that now you have an operating room within a burn unit, which most places—even in the United States—will envy,” Dr. Charles says. “It is our hope, because of the summer-hemisphere winter, that we can get patients in and out of the hospital as quick as possible, they can get their skin grafts done, and we can have this huge, huge turnover and get them back to recovery.”

Video from the Kamuzu Central Hospital

Video courtesy of the Jaycee Burn Center

To describe what a hospital is like in Malawi, Dr. Charles says to imagine you’re in an American hospital in the 1930’s. Malawi is also very densely populated with about 14 million people in nearly 46,000 square miles. That’s roughly equivalent to the size of Ohio with about 2.5 million more people and very few medical professionals.

“In Malawi, there are no more than 20 indigenous Malawian surgeons for a population of 14 million people,” Dr. Charles says. “You can imagine that for those that actually make it to the hospital and actually see a surgeon, they’re the lucky ones.”

Dr. Charles and Dr. Cairns say they both agree that support is needed from the UNC campus and throughout the nation to continue to help improve medical practices in Malawi.

Dr. Bruce Cairns (Courtesy of UNC News Services)

Dr. Bruce Cairns (Courtesy of UNC News Services)

“I think that there are a number of things that we would like to change, but it starts with resources and support,” Dr. Cairns says.

“Part of what we’ve done is, we started a surgery residency program to train Malawians to become surgeons and also support the clinical offices for better training,” Dr. Charles says. “I think doubling up on that effort and increasing the number of people that can provide care to their people is the magic sauce.”

Dr. Cairns says he wants to put the burn center out of business, but right now all 60 beds are full.

Walking through the Jaycee Burn Center, you don’t hear much sympathy being handed out; instead, there are smiles on the faces of the doctors and nurses and words of encouragement spread throughout.Dr. Cairns says that’s important to the healing process.

“When you’re a burn patient, you become a burn survivor for life because of the scarring—not just the physical, but the psychological as well,” Dr. Cairns says. “So, how we support the patient and their family during that time has a huge impact on how that burn will affect them for the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Cairns touts the fact that UNC has what he believes are some of the best occupational therapists and one of the best facilities to handle the delicate nature of the trauma, not to mention some of the top doctors.

The Burn Center has a family waiting room that was made possible by Duke Energy. It also has a playroom that helps in the physical and mental healing process.

UNC Jaycee Burn CenterDr. Cairns says a major contributor to the continued success of the Burn Center is the North Carolina Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.

Energy co-ops are private, independent, and not-for-profit. Dr. Cairns says he’s glad to partner with them because he knows if something were to change in the amount of support the Center receives, either from the state, or the hospital, the co-ops would be in full support.

He says his goal to put the Jaycee Burn Center out of business isn’t there yet.

“We are making progress,” Dr. Cairns says. “We will always continue to work on this, but it’s a constantly-evolving challenge.”

He says, for now, his goal is to educate and to work on preventative care so the beds don’t constantly remain full.

“The most advanced medical technology that we’ve ever developed is a vaccine, so it’s always better to prevent an injury than to treat it,” Dr. Cairns says. “But, we have to educate people about what the dangers are in the home—for example, grease fires—as well as the kinds of activities that might lead to an injury—for example, using gasoline on a fire will result in an explosion.”

“We have other challenges with technologies—microwaves, for examples—people don’t appreciate how hot the liquids can get,” Dr. Cairns says. “But more importantly, as our population ages, people aren’t as quick to react. So, we get a lot of people who are older who are getting burned in the kitchen.”

He says there are always a number of injuries after the Fourth of July celebration from fireworks, including the most recent one.

Dr. Cairns says UNC also gets the largest number of transfers from other hospitals, including Duke and WakeMed.

The Jaycee Burn Center treats patients from almost all 100 North Carolina counties. And Dr. Cairns says he wants to continue to make it easier for patients to receive the same quality care they receive in Chapel Hill elsewhere in the state.

“Ultimately we’re here to serve our patients, our citizens, our constituents,” Dr. Cairns says. “How to do that has been a challenge, because some of the services require a critical mass of people. So, we would partner, probably, with trauma centers as well as the UNC Health Care system facilities/hospitals that are a part of what we do here. Now that the electronic medical record is going to be uniform across the system, we’ll be able to work with those various facilities; hopefully we’ll use telemedicine and other strategies to be able to allow the patients to get the kind of care they need without having to travel so far from home.”


Southern Cricket Frog Population Declining; Gates Foundation Gives $8 Million to Motherhood Initiative; Bouncing Bulldogs Championship

North Carolina’s Southern Cricket Frog population is on the decline.

Jonathan Perry Micancin, recent Ph.D. graduate from UNC’s Biology Department, has been researching the Northern Cricket Frog and the Southern Cricket Frog. Both species inhabit North Carolina’s upper Coastal Plain.

After comparing data from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences recorded in the 1960s, the Southern Cricket Frog species no longer exists between the Chowan and Cape Fear Rivers, but the Northern Cricket Frog holds a steady presence in the area.

Micancin does not have a definite reason for the disappearance. Possibilities include the Northern Cricket Frog overtaking the area, human activity, and climate change.

The decreasing number of Southern Cricket Frogs reflects a nationwide trend in reduced populations of amphibians, which could have a significant impact on the food chain.


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave a five-year, $8 million grant to support the President’s Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Initiative in Malawi.

The grant will go towards many initiatives in Malawi. Among them, UNC will work to create model maternity homes, built to educate pregnant women and new mothers about health and services.

Money will also support training of newborn and maternal health care providers and institution of the first residency program for obstetricians and gynecologists in Malawi.

Malawi’s high infant and maternal mortality rates prompted UNC to provide aid to the country. UNC Project-Malawi unites the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases with Malawi Ministry of Health to enhance the health the Malawi people. Initially created twenty years ago to alleviate Malawai’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the program now encompasses on a broad array of health concerns including malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, and emergency obstetrics

UNC currently has seven faculty members stationed in Malawi and Zambia, making UNC the largest global OB-GYN provider in the United States.


On July 8, Chapel Hill’s Bouncing Bulldogs Jump Rope Team traveled to the University of Central Florida to compete in the Third Annual World Jump Rope Championships and Camp.

14 countries and 15 states were represented in the 18 different events, ranging from speed to freestyle to Double Dutch. The Bouncing Bulldogs won a total of 301 medals between the Junior and Senior divisions.

Athletes 14 years or younger competed in the Junior World Championship division. Athletes of any age exhibited their talents in the Senior World Championship division. The Bouncing Bulldogs team is compromised of jumpers ranging ages 5 to 26. Many of the younger jumpers won awards above older competitors.

Coach Ray Frederick feels that this year’s team has performed the best he has ever seen in his 29 years of coaching.