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Dr. James C. Jeng of the Washington Hospital Center’s burn surgery unit began treating Vladimir Djordjevic shortly after he was burned at Good Guys strip club on the evening of Nov. 3, 2007. Jeng says that when Djordjevic arrived, he had suffered burns on 95 percent of his body. Nearly all were third degree—-the type of burn that doctors identify as not “having the wherewithal to repair themselves.”
Jeng says that one year later, his patient remains in a life-threatening situation. Djordjevic’s injuries are at the “extreme limit of what can be survived,” Jeng says. In his 15 years at the area’s main burn unit, Jeng says he has “never had a case worse than this that had a chance of survival. . . . It’s an unbelievably horrific insult to the organism.”
For the first few weeks after he was admitted to the hospital, Jeng attempted to keep Djordjevic from succumbing to “burn shock”—-where the body’s circulatory system shuts down and fails to deliver blood to all areas of the body, causing organ failure. Over the past year, he’s worked to replace the 95 percent of Djordjevic’s skin that was irreparably burned, using artificial skin, human skin grown in petri dishes, cadaver skin, and pig skin to patch the body. He’s also had to work to cut off dead flesh from Djordjevic’s body—-which could end up toxic, “Just like food poisoning.”
Jeng says his unit has “pulled out all the stops” in Djordjevic’s case, and has been forced to “make this up as we go along.” He’s had sheets of Djordjevic’s own dish-grown skin delivered from Boston, a “horrifically expensive” measure he’s never seen utilized before. He was also forced to beg fellow surgeons to work to close a hole between Djordjevic’s trachea and esophagus, because the throat surgeons “thought he was unsurvivable.” The operation “damn near killed him,” Jeng says.
As for Djordjevic’s future prognosis, Jeng says, “I hope he’s not going to die. I’m not sure he’s not going to die.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done him a favor or not,” he says. “Sometimes I wonder.”