Every Mom's Nightmare: A Summer Camp Accident: How My Son’s 2nd Degree Burns Inspired the Creation of a Highly-Effective, Essential Oil-Based Skin Care Line
by Sharon Gnatt Epel, CEO/Founder La Ishá Inc.
The La Ishá Story began in June of 2005, when my then 17 year old son Aaron left our home in Colorado to participate in an exciting six-week summer rainforest study program in Costa Rica.
After several days in group orientation, Aaron and his peers were taken on what should have been a fun excursion - white water rafting along the border of Panama. The night before the trip, a heavy rain fell and saturated the soil, causing significant runoff from the local area fruit plantations. Unbeknownst to the campers, highly toxic agricultural chemicals that were being used by the banana and pineapple growers had seeped through the soil and into the river where they sat undetected on its surface like an invisible oil slick. Among these chemicals was paraquat: a quick acting herbicide that is rain-fast within minutes of application and highly toxic to human beings and animals.
Paraquat is the number one cause of pesticide poisoning in Costa Rica. It is on the World Health Organization’s “Dirty Dozen”: a list of dangerous pesticides whose use should be prohibited. It is banned in the EU, Switzerland, Scandinavia and a handful of other nations. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified paraquat as possibly carcinogenic for human beings. "Stop Paraquat", a citizens' action campaign coalition, has been demanding since 2002 that this highly toxic herbicide be universally banned. Paraquat poisoning can cause damage to the skin ranging from reddening and blistering to severe burns. It has been implicated in Parkinson’s disease and brain damage. In worst case scenarios, absorption of paraquat through the skin or via inhalation can lead to lung damage and death. If accidentally swallowed, it can also cause heart failure, esophageal holes, kidney and liver failure, seizures and coma. When it comes into direct contact with the eyes it can cause blindness. There is no known antidote to or effective treatment for poisoning from this product. Symptoms after exposure do not always manifest immediately: they can appear days or weeks after contact and persist indefinitely.
Aaron and his fellow campers waded into the river where they came into direct contact with the pesticide-laden water. Within 2 hours of exposure, small blisters formed on his skin. The photographs posted on this site are of his hands only, but several other areas of his body were affected as well. Please note: these pictures are graphic and can be quite unpleasant to look at, so do not click on the links if you are squeamish. Here is his left hand, and here is his right hand. Six hours later, the tiny blisters had grown so large that they hung over the sides of his hands like heavy water balloons. Here is My son's left hand six hours later and His right hand six hours later.
Later that day I received a telephone call from one of the camp's group leaders telling me that Aaron was having a ‘minor allergic reaction’ that they attributed to the sunscreen he had used earlier in the day. The symptoms they described made this sound quite unlikely to me and I insisted on speaking directly with my son. Aaron told me that the blisters were still growing in size and becoming increasingly painful, so I insisted upon immediate medical intervention – not an easy request to fulfill given the remote location of the camp. Several staff members accompanied Aaron on the long journey by foot from the base camp deep in the rainforest back to the main road and transportation to the hospital in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. There, a surgeon diagnosed my son with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. She cut open the huge blisters, removed the dead, hanging skin, administered oral antibiotics and applied a petroleum-based burn ointment to the gray, bloodless areas where the skin had been cut away. Because the wounds needed to be kept clean, the bandages changed frequently and ointments applied regularly - something that would have been almost impossible to carry out while living in a dirt hut on the rainforest floor - I insisted that my son be sent home.
While I waited for Aaron’s arrival, I consulted with several local physicians for guidance. The consensus was that the burns were of unknown origin, and that traditional burn therapies, however good at preventing infection, would leave my boy scarred for life and his dexterity impeded by thick, inflexible scar tissue. Only one of the five doctors - who specialized in integrative medicine - was reasonably certain that the burns were caused by toxic chemicals, something he had seen firsthand during his extensive medical career with the U.S. Army. He suggested that the burns be treated with clinical essential oils: natural concentrated plant extracts that I had never heard of before. Aaron and I agreed to go ahead with this course of treatment mainly because - given the alternatives - we felt there was nothing to lose by trying it. The decision to use the essential oils was a huge leap of faith, but one that paid off better than we could ever have imagined.
We took dated pictures to document my son's treatment and recovery. When Aaron first returned from Costa Rica wrapped up like a mummy, the skin under the bandages was gray in color, dull and unreflective like cadaver skin, and completely void of surface blood. After 3 weeks of applying essential oils to his hands twice a day, blood flow was restored to the injured areas. Although the bloody skin certainly didn't look very pretty at the time, we were assured that the bleeding was a good sign and an indication that healing was underway. See pictures of his left hand: and his right hand here.
Miraculously, one short month later, only a red discolored outline on the skin marked where the injury had once been. Here are pictures of his left hand and his right hand. The entire healing process took approximately four months from start to finish.
Here are unretouched pictures of Aaron's hands as they look today. I've posted two views of his left hand, the first one here, and the second one here and a picture of his right hand. I personally took these pictures outdoors in bright sunlight so that every little imperfection would be visible. Please note that both hands are fully healed. There is no residual scarring whatsoever. None of his finger or joint movements are impeded by scar tissue. His fair skin is soft and supple, the pigmentation even and the natural color fully restored.
Nothing other than essential oils was ever used on his skin. The pictures you've seen here were submitted to the American Medical Association to document this impressive recovery. They are a testament to the expert knowledge and care of our wonderful doctor, Raphael D’Angelo, M.D., and were recently included in a comprehensive textbook written by Robert Tisserand - one of the world's leading authorities on aromatherapy and essential oils.
By the way, the leader of the rafting expedition eventually admitted that the camp had known for some time about the toxic chemicals in the river, but he swore that he would deny having told me if I ever forced him to testify in court. I agreed not to litigate in return for detailed information about the chemicals lurking in the water. Several years later, one of the larger fruit plantations was sued by its workers. They eventually won the case and were awarded financial restitution, but unfortunately it came too late for many of them who became blind, sterile and cancer ridden from years of daily exposure to paraquat.
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Aaron's harrowing ordeal inspired me to learn more about essential oils and how they can be used to treat a variety of skin issues effectively and without many of the side effects commonly encountered in the course of traditional burn therapy. As someone who grew up near the beach and spent a great deal of time in the sun, I wondered what effect these oils could have on skin like mine that was showing signs of serious cumulative sun damage: wrinkles, age spots and reduced elasticity. After three years of supplemental studies, intense international research, product development, and extensive testing, La Ishá Natural Skin Care made its debut with 2 products: Breast SOS and our Pomegranate Moisture Booster. We now have a complete line of age-defying skin care and aromatherapy products based upon highly successful clinical essential oil therapy. As a tribute to my mom and all the girlfriends I lost to cancer, La Ishá became the 1st natural and ‘green’ company dedicated to formulating highly effective skin care products that minimize the risk of developing environmentally caused cancers and other serious illness from the products we use every day. Dubbed the "holy grail" for beauty junkies who care about their health, we are proud to be setting new standards for the beauty industry. By combining eco-friendly, sustainable practices with safe organic ingredients that support good health we are able to achieve visually stunning results without resorting to the use of cheap synthetics, fillers, artificial colors, chemical fragrances, phthalates, parabens, sulfates, petroleum derivatives, or known cancer-causing agents.
I continue to use our simple protocol twice a day to combat years of serious "sun abuse" and help minimize future free radical damage. Now that I am in my mid-sixties, I am living proof of the efficacy of our products. I invite you to try La Ishá and experience the benefits of clinical essential oil therapy in an easy-to-use, daily skin care routine. We have taken the guesswork out of safely using therapeutic-grade essential oils for long lasting, age-defying results and skin that glows with healthy, youthful vitality.
May you enjoy the blessings of good health and timeless beauty always!
Sharon Gnatt Epel
Founder/CEO La Ishá Inc.
La Ishá - because healthy, younger-looking skin never goes out of fashion!