Katie Piper campaigns for a world 'not limited by scars'
Dermatology Katie Piper is an author, TV presenter, advocate and charity campaigner. She founded the Katie Piper Foundation to help people with burns and scars to reconnect with their lives and their communities.
Katie has rebuilt her life since being attacked in 2008, at the age of 24, and now is a well-known and visible person living her life with scars in the public eye and raising awareness for better care and support for others living with burns and scars as a result of trauma.
Helping people with burns & scars
Katie Piper’s work, and the work of her charity the Katie Piper Foundation, focuses on ‘helping people with burns and scars to reconnect with their lives and their communities’. Katie and the Foundation campaigns for ongoing specialist rehabilitation after people with burns and scarring leave hospital.
“We organised the first UK national scar assessment and training congress, currently in its second year, to provide the highest level of training for staff who manage scars. We are facilitating research into cutting edge treatments as well as putting together publications for patients and healthcare professionals and seeking to launch a scientific journal related to scar and burn research and education.
“People often feel very isolated after their discharge from hospital. Without specialist rehabilitation individuals often cannot reach their full potential and reintegrate into society”, Katie says. “This is why we are so passionate about this issue - patients could have amputated limbs, digits, or other functional problems restricting their ability to walk, see, eat or talk.”
At the moment in England there are National Burn Care Standards that set out the level of care that people with burns and scars should expect, but the standards are only aspirational and not mandatory. They state that there should be burns rehabilitation available for people who need it outside of hospital, but at the moment none of these services exist.
The Katie Piper Foundation is attempting to fill this need by fundraising for the first standalone rehabilitation centre in the UK. It also raises awareness of which treatments work and which don’t or could even be harmful, provides training for healthcare professionals and backs research into newer, cutting-edge treatments for scars.
“The public are often surprised that people with burns and scars often have to go through further surgeries throughout their lives – for example to release scars that have become tighter over time”, Katie says. “But we are contacted by many people who are not happy with their scars and cannot get referred for further specialist treatment. Often they are refused because their concerns are considered ‘cosmetic’ and the impact of the scar on their psychological wellbeing and functioning is not taken account. People don’t always realise the impact that scarring can have on a person’s physical functioning.”
The psychological affects of burns & scars
There is also a need for better psychological support for people with burns and scars, so that they are not prevented from being able to fully participate in society. “Even if someone has a burn or scar that is not visible or is relatively small it can have a huge affect on that person’s psychological wellbeing. It can have a huge affect their relationships, ability to work and overall wellbeing.”
Peer support can be helpful for some people with burns and scars meeting others who share some of the same experiences can make them feel less isolated and more confident. “I have certainly found this support vital throughout my recovery”, Katie says. The Foundation’s research, conducted with researchers from the University of Sheffield, shows many people who attended support group events helped their confidence, relationships, their mood and their ability to take part in work or education.
Changing public perception
There’s still a long way to go change the public’s image of scarring, as “people frequently tell me that they experience difficult responses from the public”, Katie says, which can further impact on their confidence. “We are often contacted by people who are many years post-injury and are struggling with many of these issues”, she adds.
But things are changing for the better, partly through her visible profile and public journey, the Foundation, and the work of other charities including Changing Faces, who campaign for people with injuries that affect their appearance, Katie says.
“We get emails that say because of seeing me in the public eye living life to the full with scars, people feel 'proud' of their scars; that they no longer try and cover them but are happy to go out and live life confidently. Burns is more widely discussed and less of a taboo subject - I see this myself through interacting with the general public and in my everyday life as a survivor with visible scars.”
This means the goal of the Katie Piper Foundation - a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of wellbeing - is closer to becoming a reality.