The lack of specialty medical care in rural Montana can be stressful for those needing treatment.
Tim Huckstep of Dillon, who suffered severe burns to his feet, was able to receive burn care through TeleBurn, the use of technology to deliver burn care to patients in hard-to-reach places. TeleBurn is now available to the residents of Dillon and southwest Montana communities because of the partnership between Deer Lodge Medical Center and University of Utah Health.
Huckstep, 65, is a retired police officer who enjoys the quiet life in Montana. He said not having to drive to Salt Lake City for each follow-up appointment made his life a lot easier and less stressful.
For the past 15 years Huckstep has suffered from severe neuropathy caused by diabetes. One evening in August 2017 he fell asleep in his recliner with his feet too close to a space heater.
“I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “I woke up about six hours later and put my slippers on to do some things around the house. It wasn’t until I went to put on my socks and shoes that I saw black feet and toes. My toes looked like balloons, but I was surprised there was no pain.”
He went to Barrett Hospital in Dillon for treatment and then drove himself to Salt Lake City to the University of Utah's Health’s Burn Center. He received permission to return home to put things in order before returning for surgery during which the toes on his left foot were amputated and he had a skin graft. He also suffers from a severe heart condition and had kidney failure that required dialysis while at the burn center.
The TeleBurn partnership between Deer Lodge Medical Center and the U of U Health began in March 2017, about the time Huckstep needed follow-up treatment.
Deer Lodge Medical Center spokesperson Kyla Johnson said, “TeleBurn Care allows patients and local providers to connect via video conference, to burn experts at the U of U Health’s Burn Center to receive top-of-the-line care for emergency burn injuries, as well as consultation and follow-up clinical appointments.”
The TeleBurn Care program reduces travel expenses, provides greater accessibility for rural residents and patients have better outcomes because they get immediate attention from burn experts, she said.
Following his release from the burn center, Huckstep traveled to Deer Lodge to receive regular follow-up care for his burns, traveling only 90 minutes instead of six hours for treatment in Salt Lake City.
“It was so convenient,” Huckstep said. “The doctor in Salt Lake would tell them what to do and they were very good,” he said. “When I was driving to Salt Lake I was on crutches, it was cold and I had a tough time. I was so tired and beat up. The Lord brought me through it, and I hope my experience will be a testimony to other people.”
U of U Health spokesperson Suzanne Young said, “During treatment in Deer Lodge, Tim had the same experience as during his face-to-face visits in Salt Lake City, but without the hassle and expense of driving two states away. At a time when he was at an all-time low, having the support of his friends and sister nearby made an enormous difference in his ability to recover, both physically and mentally.”
“The ability to use technology to deliver care to the people of Deer Lodge and the surrounding communities has an amazing impact on the recovery process,” she said. “Tim learned how to walk without his toes, he is no longer on dialysis and he’s back to enjoying a peaceful life in Dillon.”