The three young women glowed like the fashion models they could be, walking advertisements for a new treatment for burn victims that is being hailed as a medical miracle.
Identical triplets Trae, Jordan and Chandra Berns, 22, had first visited TODAY’s New York studios last May to talk about the pioneering laser treatment that had begun to erase scars that they had carried for 20 years. Friday, they came back to show the remarkable healing they’ve experienced since undergoing several more treatments.
“Over the past few months, it’s pretty much a gradual improvement,” Chandra told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “Our skin has gotten smoother. Our scars have gotten a lot smoother.”
Jordan, who had lived with limited mobility in her left arm because of scar tissue around her elbow, said, “It’s helped a lot.”
As the scars that covered up to 30 percent of their bodies have been lasered away, Trae said the sisters no longer self-consciously cover their damaged skin.
“We gained a lot more self-confidence than we had before,” Trae said.
Scarred by tragedy
The Berns triplets were just 17 months old when they were trapped in a fire in their Texas home that killed their mother. The little girls spent a long time in the hospital before being released to an extensive series of painful surgeries and skin grafts.
Despite their burns and the compressing bandages they had to wear, their childhood was remarkably normal.
“When we were growing up, we didn’t notice that we had burns. We were regular children. We went out. The people that we grew up with, all the children, they pretty much knew what happened, and everybody pretty much accepted it,” Chandra told Lauer in May.
It was only when they got to high school and met new people that they were made acutely aware of their disfigurement by other children who pointed at them and called them vicious names.By the time they all went off to college, they thought they would have to live with their scars forever.
A new approach
Then the sisters heard about a pioneering laser treatment being used by Dr. Jill Waibel, a cosmetic surgeon in Palm Beach, Fla. The three drove from their Texas home to Florida to see if Waibel could help them. When Waibel met the three young women, she and Lumenis, the manufacturer of the laser, agreed to treat them free of charge.
Waibel said she’s treated hundreds of burn victims in addition to the Berns sisters. “These are typical results,” she said. “For burn patients, there’s great improvement, and we’re still studying it and learning more.”
The triplets said that the treatment stings, but not badly. After two weeks, the skin peels like a sunburn. Over the course of months, new tissue grows, smoothing contours and evening colors.
The Bernses said they’ve had four treatments and will be having two more. Their skin will never be perfect, but it is dramatically improved.
Cheaper than surgery
The big benefit of the treatment, Waibel said, is that it costs from $500 to a couple of thousand for a single treatment. “A fraction of what surgery costs,” she said, “and better results.”
The lasers were developed to treat serious acne scars, but Waibel has pioneered using them to treat burn victims. She said that doctors are not sure exactly how the lasers work to destroy scar tissue, but there is no arguing with the results.
Until the laser treatment came into use, burn victims had to live with often-serious scarring. In addition to disfiguring the victims, scar tissue could also seriously restrict movement. The laser not only erases much of the scarring, it also returns the elasticity to damaged skin.
Hope for others
Since appearing on TODAY, Waibel has been invited to travel the nation and the world to educate other doctors in use of the laser.
The TODAY appearance also allowed the Berns sisters to start a foundation, Three for Hope, to help other burn victims get the treatments. Helped by donations sent by TODAY viewers, the foundation has already assisted its first patient, the sisters said.
The foundation is headquartered in San Antonio. Its mission statement reads: “To empower and inspire other burn survivors to get past the tragedy in their lives and become the best people they can be. We will be providing reinforcement, hope, education, rehabilitation, treatment, and financial resources and support to survivors and their families.”
For more information about the Three for Hope Foundation, click here.