Future Uncertain for Local Patients After Galveston Hospital Closes

By: Kristen Ross Email
By: Kristen Ross Email

It's another sign of the times. A well-known hospital for treating and rehabilitating burned children, forced to close its doors.

The Shriners Hospital in Galveston is the victim of a one-two punch: the first was Hurricane Ike, the second, a soft economy.

But the closure is hitting especially close to home for one local mom who now wonders where her son will go to receive his care.

Like most 12-year-old boys, Austin Rathjen loves to play video games and participate in sports.

"Baseball, football, and basketball," Austin Rathjen said.

But doing these things hasn't always been easy. A camp fire accident left Austin with burns covering 87 percent of his body.

"Spring Break, we were fishing on the Brazos River," Austin's Mom Pam Rathjen remembers. "Austin was roasting a marshmallow. He found a gas can, that nobody really knew was there and he was going to pour it on the fire to make it bigger but when he opened it the gas can exploded."

The then nine-year-old was rushed from hospital to hospital.

"They told us that kids they see with this degree of extensive injuries, chances are they won't make it," Pam Rathjen said.

Austin was later transferred to the burn unit at the Shriner's Hospital in Galveston.

"Once you walked through the doors you never once heard if he was going to make it, everything was he's going to be fine," Pam Rathjen said.

Austin's mom credits her son's quick recovery and following therapy to the caring staff at Shriners.

"You couldn't ask for a better team of doctors and nurses," Pam Rathejen said.

So when Pam heard the news the hospital was going to suspend operations, it was difficult to swallow.

"It's a tragic thing to me," Pam Rathjen said.

Tragic because Pam has seen how far her son has come.
From hospital bed, to now a skilled hunter, who is even back on the basketball court.

But she now wonders where Austin will get his future care.

"What's going to happen? You know he still needs surgeries, he'll need surgeries until he quits growing. So we're kind of in a standstill," Pam Rathjen said.

Due to the burns on Austin's body his skin doesn't stretch. So each time the 12-year-old grows he has to have a skin graft done on certain areas of his body.

Currently the family is looking into some temporary care for Austin's medical needs in the Temple area, until a more permanent solution can be found.

Another added benefit is that the Shriners Hospital offered many of its young burn patients free health care while at the facility, regardless of financial need.

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