Three-year-old soldiers on after 2015 scalding accident

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Parents must always be alert to danger, says woman whose son was scalded

She will never forget that Monday in June 2015 when her son tipped over a frying pan containing hot oil she had left to cool on the kitchen countertop.

Madam Masshitah Abdullah's only child screamed as the oil scalded his face, body and arms.

The toddler is still undergoing laser treatment for second-degree burns, and is expected to undergo skin grafting this year. His medical bills have already exceeded $200,000.

Madam Masshitah has used the episode to help others who have suffered similar heartache.

On Jan 10, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin told Parliament that, between 2011 and 2015, there were 580 cases per year on average of children below the age of 16 years suffering burns.

He said about half of the cases involved kids below three years old, and more than three quarters of the cases occurred at home. And half of them occurred in kitchens.

Madam Masshitah, 33, said she was cooking when her helper brought her then 15-month old son, Aafaa Zuhayr Muhammad Al-Khair, to the kitchen. It was then that tragedy struck.

She said Aafaa, now three, is experiencing developmental issues, including symptoms of trauma, such as being unable to speak and being afraid of people.

Madam Masshitah, who runs a support group for parents of burn victims, said she gets at least one call or request for help every two to three days.

"No parent wants to experience this. We can take all kinds of precautions, but all it takes is one careless mistake," she said.

She quit her job as a marketing manager to stay home to look after Aafaa. To supplement the family income, she runs a small business selling aloe vera products from home.

Madam Masshitah said she and her husband, Mr Muhammad Al-Khair Salahuddin, 32, will not contemplate having a second child until Aafaa completes his treatment and stabilises.

"While we thought about having another child, so Aafaa can have a friend and companion, we cannot do so right now."

Madam Masshitah said parents must be alert and not to be complacent with their helpers.

From the calls she has received, she recounted an incident of a child who was scalded in the shower. Another was hurt when a helper tried to calm the child while holding an open thermos flask of hot water.

Ms Jess Ang, general manager at Aria, a foreign domestic worker skills training centre, said training is available for such workers on how to handle emergencies involving a child. They can also learn about basic prevention methods such as not handling power sockets with wet hands.

Madam Masshitah hopes Aafaa will be able to lead a normal life in the future.

She said: " Of course, it won't be easy, with the treatments he will still need to undergo. But with the early intervention programme and care, I hope he will be fine."

Tips on preventing burns

Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mr Amrin Amin, said information on burns prevention are in the child safety checklist in the Health Promotion Board (HPB)'s Child Health Booklet. It is issued to every child born in Singapore and is available at HPB's Health Hub.

While some of the tips may seem like common knowledge, they are easily overlooked or assumed.

Here are some tips parents and caregivers should follow:

  • ​Keep matchsticks and lighters out of reach - on the top shelf of a cabinet or locked away in a cupboard. Do not let children play with them.
  • Avoid using tablecloths as your child could tug at them. Any hot food and liquids on the table may spill and scald your child. Consider placemats instead.
  • Keep children out of the kitchen when you are cooking. If leaving pots and pans cooking on the stove, turn handles inwards so a child cannot pull and overturn them. Install stove guards.
  • Ensure thermos flask caps are securely tightened, so children cannot tilt the flask and spill hot liquid on themselves. Use thermos flasks with safety locks.
  • Keep your children away when you are ironing. After ironing, make sure the iron and its cord are stored properly to prevent your child pulling the cord or toppling the iron.
  • Add hot water to cold water before you bathe your child so even if your child jumps into the basin or tub while you are not watching, the child will not get scalded.