Krissie Web

Q&A with Krissie Stiles

Krissie Stiles is a nurse, an advocate for burns survivors, and a passionate campaigner for burns first aid. She's also the newest member of our Research Council! We caught up with Krissie to learn more about her career and what drew her to The Scar Free Foundation.

Hi Krissie, lovely to meet you! We’re delighted to have you as the newest member of our Research Council. To start us off, I was wondering if you could give us an overview of your career so far?

Of course! My clinical background is as a nurse, although I actually came into the healthcare sector with a degree in social psychology. I quickly realised that wasn’t for me. I decided to retrain as a nurse. I had a specialist lecture in Year 2 about burns and burns care, and something just clicked for me!

As soon as I graduated in 2003, I went straight into working on a burns unit. In total, I spent about 17 years working in burns care – including as Lead Nurse for the London and SE Burns Network, and as a Board Member of the British Burns Association. I also did a lot of work advising and training other healthcare professionals on how to manage and stabilise patients presenting with burns injuries.

I always really enjoyed working with charities outside of the burn units because that’s where I felt the need was greatest. At that point, the Katie Piper Foundation was looking to set up their first ever UK residential rehabilitation centre for burn survivors, and the Director asked me if I would be the Clinical Lead. I jumped at the chance! I really enjoyed that job, working with a marvellous team to set up this amazing resource.

But by 2020, I felt like I missed my patients, I missed being involved. So I went for an opportunity as Lead Plastic Surgery Nurse at King’s College Hospital. Well, of course, March 2020, the pandemic kicked in and I volunteered myself for Covid ICU. Eventually, after a year, I finally came back to the role I was actually employed to do at King’s.

In total, I did three years at King’s. But Covid shook my world a lot, as it did for a lot of us. I needed a break. And that’s how I ended up in my current role, at Leigh Day.

What is it you do now then?

So I'm Client Liaison Manager at Leigh Day, which is a law firm that supports the underprivileged members of our community. I work with the personal injury team to offer a clinical perspective. I work with a lot of people who are survivors of burns, or who are amputees who are suddenly in this very stressful situation. It’s my job to bridge the gap between the medical and the legal world, and help survivors and their families through the process.

That’s quite the career!

I know! I think I get bored easily. [laughs] I think I’m very lucky that burns care clicked for me the way it did. To me, burns isn’t just a surgical speciality. You’re dealing with patients with diabetes, with heart conditions – and you’re taking care of them throughout their recovery, often for years. I don’t think there are many specialties that offer that level of relationship-building.

It also works in my favour that burns are so complex. I have all these questions which take me down these rabbit holes. And then I meet new people and new organisations, which inspire me. I’m very lucky in that I’ve had opportunities to experience different ways of helping people, not just at the bedside.

To me, burns isn’t just a surgical speciality. You’re dealing with patients with diabetes, with heart conditions – and you’re taking care of them throughout their recovery, often for years. I don’t think there are many specialties that offer that level of relationship-building.

So, how did you find out about The Scar Free Foundation?

Scar Free was always on my radar – we move in the same circles. I had worked with all these surgeons and researchers before, and was aware of their connections to The Scar Free Foundation. I’d even met Charlotte (Head of Research) a few times during my work with the Katie Piper Foundation. But honestly, it was social media that really piqued my interest. All of a sudden, Scar Free was very visible on my timeline and it seemed to me that, as an organisation, you were growing and maturing. And that made me want to know more about the research you were doing. I liked what I saw and very much wanted to be a part of it!

And now you’re part of our Research Council. How did you feel when you were asked?

Excited and nervous! I’ve never been involved in research before. I’ve studied it, but I’ve never been part of the machine that makes it happen. Being part of The Scar Free Foundation Research Council really matters to me, because it gives me the opportunity to be involved, working with lived experience representatives and scientists to steer the future of this field.

I have also been very much affected by the passing of Professor Amber Young. Her presence – and now absence – has directed my gaze towards where I want to be in my professional life. It’s important to me to carry on her excellent work. Being part of Research Council is one way I can honour her memory.

We are so happy to have you on board! Now, a bit of a difficult question: what’s a healthcare problem you wish you could fix?

Gosh, that’s such a good question with so many answers! I think one of the largest challenges at the moment in scarring and burns care is the lack of understanding around burns first aid in the general population.

What is burns first aid, and why is it important?

There are three main steps to burns first aid: Cool, Cover, and Call.

So you cool the burn with running water for 20 minutes. This is best done as soon as possible but is still effective up to 3 hours after a burn had happened.

When that’s done, you cover the wound with a non-fluffy dressing or clingfilm.

And of course, you should call 999 if the burn is serious.

Only a third of patients that we see in the burns service have received appropriate first aid before coming to hospital, at which point it’s too late. This is a truly devastating stat – in my world, first aid is such a massive way to offset the consequences of a burn injury. If done well, at the right time, for the right duration, and in the right time frame, you can counteract the need for surgery and minimise the potential of scarring.

But engaging people with burns first aid is a problem we haven’t been able to solve. If we can find a way to connect our knowledge and our research to communities, that would be a massive change across the horizon of burn care.

How do you think we could get the message out there?

It’s difficult. I think the first thing we can all do is just speak about it. If everyone who already knows about burns first aid takes five minutes today to share that information with the person they love the most, then we’ve already doubled the number of people with that life-saving knowledge.

We don’t need to think big, in terms of communities and counties and countries. We just need to start at home. That’s part of the reason I wrote the Family Oops: to get parents and children talking about burns first aid at home.

Yes, tell me about that – you published a children’s book called The Family Oops and Burns First Aid in 2019 to help raise awareness of burns first aid. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

Of course! It’s a little booklet about an accident prone family – a mum, a dad, a child, and a baby that’s just started crawling. They do all the wrong things when it comes to preventing burns. The mum gets sunburnt, the dad throws petrol on a bonfire, that sort of thing. They eventually go to school together and learn more about how to prevent burns and what to do if the worst happens.

It's a fun book with beautiful illustrations and rhymes. It’s aimed at Key Stage 1 children, so it’s very easy to read – I even got my toddler at the time to test it!

The idea behind it is that if we teach children these messages, then we’ll have a whole new generation who will know what to do, the same way we have a whole generation of adults that know to Stop Drop and Roll or Look Left, then Right, then Left Again before crossing the road.

It’s a free resource that’s hosted by the Children’s Burns Trust. You can get a copy by contacting them, or there’s a video on YouTube going through the book page by page.

I’m really happy to say that The Scar Free Foundation is funding a third printing of the book so hopefully lots more people will get to read The Family Oops soon!

Finally, to wrap up, is there anything you want to say to people who are interested in burns care or scar free healing?

Follow your curiosity. Reach out to researchers, clinicians, people like myself – we’re all very accessible on social media now, and frankly, most of us love being asked for our opinion! There’s also a lot of amazing resources online about what research is being done.

And of course, just share the basics with friends and family. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but knowing basic burns first aid can make a huge difference if the worst happens.

Thank you so much for your time, Krissie. It’s amazing to have you as part of the Scar Free community and we’re so excited to work with you!

Find out more about burns first aid on Children's Burns Trust website: Burns First Aid