Summertime typically evokes so many pleasant images — backyard barbecues, time spent at the pool or beach, camping trips to cooler climes. But for Dr. Syed Saquib one of the images it brings to mind is far less pleasant — nasty burns acquired when someone lands on hot pavement.
In fact, summer is known to Saquib as “pavement burn season.”
If you fall on sidewalks, roads, or other surfaces that a scorching summer sun heats to as much as 180 degrees, serious burns can result. Saquib, the medical director at the UMC Lions Burns Center, said 13 percent of the center’s serious burn injuries come from hot pavement.
In a year’s time, the burn clinic admits more than 300 patients and also handles thousands of visits.
Saquib has co-authored many peer-reviewed publications that have demonstrated that patients with pavement burns have an increased hospital length of stay compared to other burns of similar sizes. They also require a substantial need for surgical procedures, and those who come in with signs of heatstroke have an increased in-hospital mortality.
People who are hurt, particularly the elderly, often are unable to get off the blistering pavement because they are unconscious after collapsing from dehydration, heatstroke, or another medical condition. Pavement burns are also caused by falls caused by intoxication, while other burns occur after vehicle crashes throw people onto the pavement.
Saquib said serious pavement burn injuries are unique to the desert environment — something he had never heard before moving to Las Vegas in 2016. His studies of the phenomenon now have national media outlets stretching from CNN to the Associated Press calling him for comment.
A study he co-authored found that once temperatures hit 95 degrees, there is a rise in admissions at the UMC Lions Burns Center, with the numbers surging as temperatures rise above 100. Temperatures have already hit 116 degrees this year.
Pediatric cases at the burn center, Saquib said, are frequently the result of children running barefoot on hot surfaces before caregivers can pick them up. As part of the burn center’s outreach program, flip-flops are given out at public swimming pools to help protect youngsters’ feet and to other vulnerable populations such as the homeless.
“We also see cases where people with diabetes who have a loss of sensation in their feet don’t feel the burn damage in their feet until it’s too late,” he said.
Saquib, who grew up in California, received his medical degree from The Ohio State University College of Medicine. He completed a residency in general surgery from the State University of New York at Buffalo, a surgery critical care/trauma fellowship from the University of Florida-Jacksonville, and a burn surgery fellowship from Johns Hopkins University.
“After evaluating my experience during my time in medical school, especially during my third-year rotations, I knew I had to pursue a surgical career,” he said. “I enjoyed being in the operating room, often with complex cases, with the potential to improve and even save lives. I especially appreciate trauma/burn/critical care — they often involve some of the sickest of patients — and it’s so gratifying to take critically ill patients and be able to rescue them and often discharge them back into society as close to their baseline function as possible.”
Saquib’s interest in medicine began early. He volunteered at a hospital in high school. His father is a physician, specializing in internal medicine. He appreciated that his dad could help people. “I remember how in the 90s, before cell phones, we’d be out and about and his pager would go off and we’d have to find a payphone to call in about a patient. We learned to have plenty of quarters in the car to make phone calls.”
1 October mass shooting
On the evening of Oct. 1, 2017, Saquib was the primary surgeon on call at UMC after a shooter opened fire on a crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Strip. The shooter killed 60 people and wounded more than 400, making it the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in modern U.S. history. A total of 867 people were injured that night during the shooting and ensuing chaos.
“It was an unforgettable night,” Saquib said. “I was on call but never alone. Fortunately, the day trauma team was still in house, trying to finish patient care from their day shift. Shortly after 10 p.m., we got a notification that there was a shooting on the Strip. Ten minutes later we had almost 50 patients show up at the trauma center and then over the next eight hours, 50 more people came along with a large burn case unrelated to the event. We started calling providers in on all levels. At its peak, we ran eight operating rooms running concurrently and many teams of providers caring for patients. Providers from Nellis (Air Force Base) also came to help out. We did about 20 operations in 24 hours. It was a night where everyone banded together to meet the challenge.”
Dr. Douglas Fraser, division chief of acute care surgery and burn surgery at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, as well as chief of trauma at UMC, met Saquib while he was a trauma fellow and recruited him to Las Vegas.
“Dr. Saquib is very focused on making sure everyone has an integral part of the patient’s experience and truly focuses on having everyone’s opinions heard and acted upon,” Fraser said. “He is the definition of a team player, more specifically a team leader.”
In 2020, Saquib and his team got the UMC Lions Burn Care Center reverified as an official burn center by the American Burn Center and the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons. “It validates that we provide excellent comprehensive care from the point of injury to discharge and beyond,” Saquib said. “It demonstrates that we are committed to a rigorous improvement process so that we can continue to do better for our patients.”
Saquib, an assistant professor of surgery in the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV’s Division of Acute Care Surgery, enjoys teaching medical students and residents.
“I was fortunate to have mentors that taught me not just about medicine and surgery but also about life and career choices,” he said. “So I feel it’s my duty to pass on what I have learned to the next group of doctors including the next generation (and) allow them to find their identity and their calling.”