June 28, 2022

Family’s experience provides an example of the harm fireworks can cause

Vanderbilt doctors say fireworks injuries can require prolonged hospital stays and multiple surgeries and can result in amputation, stiffness and long-term impairment.


by Jessica Pasley

When she saw a picture of her son’s hand after a firework exploded in it, there were no words.

Horrified at the devastation that nearly claimed her son’s hand, the mother, Ms. Thomas — who requested to be identified by her last name only — is thankful that he is alive.

The image is forever embedded in her brain, Thomas said as she recalls the events of March 27.

While on her way home, she received a phone call from her 15-year-old, who had gone out with friends.

“He said, ‘Mom, I hurt my hand. Can you come help me?’” said Thomas. “As I am driving around trying to find him, I hear sirens. I see firetrucks, police cars and ambulance lights — the sort of thing I had only seen on the news.

“I didn’t see my son at first, but I heard him,” she said, pausing. “When I wasn’t allowed to go to him because they needed to stabilize the bleeding, I knew it had to be bad. I had no real idea what we were up against.”

Thomas said that night ended with her son undergoing a nearly 12-hour surgery to save his right hand. It would be one of four operations to reconstruct his hand before he was discharged home a few weeks later.

And the journey is just beginning, said Brinkley Sandvall, MD, assistant professor of Plastic Surgery, Division of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“We were able to reconstruct his hand, but he still has a long way to go,” she said. “The firework nearly blew off his hand. It had no blood flow when he came to the hospital; it was dead.

“His hand and wrist will always be different and will never have the same amount of motion and dexterity as his other hand,” Sandvall said. “He still needs additional surgery and lots of hand therapy.”

Sandvall and her hand surgery colleagues treat many patients with firework-related injuries.

“Injuries have been reported with every fireworks type,” she said. “Shells and mortars tend to cause the most devastating injuries, but all fireworks are dangerous — to both active users and to bystanders.

“In both children and adults, severe hand injuries from fireworks often affect multiple fingers and cause broken bones as well as injuries to muscles, tendons, nerves and skin,” said Sandvall. “Many of these injuries require prolonged hospital stays and multiple surgeries and result in amputation, stiffness and long-term impairment.”

The patient’s mother can attest to that.

“These are not something to play with,” she said. “I’ve never liked them. I don’t allow them in my house. They are explosives. They are dangerous. No one ever expects something to happen to your own child. Anything can happen at any given time.

“Now, when my son hears a pop, he jumps. This has definitely impacted him,” she said. “He has a permanent scar for the rest of his life, both physically and mentally.”

The National Safety Council offers the following tips:

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear.
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands.
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.
  • Only light one firework at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.
  • Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off, or in case of fire.