The boy with spray-on skin


Dressing her two-year-old son, Zed, Nicky Merrick can’t help but stare in wonder at his clear chest.

Just five months ago, Nicky, 33, feared he would be scarred for life after he knocked a cup of tea over himself.

The steaming hot liquid drenched the toddler, leaving him with horrific scalds to his shoulder and chest.

Zed Merrick
Zed Merrick

But now, amazingly, Zed shows no signs of what happened – after doctors used a revolutionary new technique to spray on a new layer of his own skin.

‘It all happened in a flash,’ says Nicky, a businesswoman from Ulceby, North Lincs.

‘My mum was making tea in the kitchen when I heard Zed scream. He had knocked a cup over himself.

‘Mum whipped off his t-shirt and his skin peeled off with it. It was awful.

‘We took him to the bathroom and I got in the bath with him, letting cold water flow over his wound.

‘Zed was clinging to me and crying. I was wearing a black fluffy jumper and bits of the fluff were sticking to his chest.

‘He was like a wild animal in my arms, thrashing about and screaming. It was terrible to have to see.’


Zed Merrick's burns
Zed Merrick’s burns


Nicky’s neighbour, 30-year-old Donna, was with the family at the time and called for an ambulance.

Zed was rushed to A&E where he was met by sound engineer dad Chunky, 43.

Here, doctors discussed transferring Zed to a different hospital.

Alarm bells started to ring for concerned mum Nicky.

She recalls: ‘Zed was bandaged up and given pain relief. He settled down a little, but then doctors mentioned moving him to a specialist burns unit elsewhere.

‘I suddenly realised it was much more serious than I thought.’

After being transferred to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, Yorks., doctors announced a bizarre-sounding procedure they hoped to perform on Zed.

‘They wanted to take a sample of Zed’s skin and turn it into a spray, which they would then spray over his burns,’ says Nicky.

‘I couldn’t quite take it in at first, but I would have done anything for him to be okay and trusted what the doctors were saying.

‘Zed didn’t have much vocabulary at the time and we couldn’t explain what was going to happen to him.

‘We just had to watch him go in for surgery, crying.’

Doctors used a technology called ReCell Spray-On Skin, developed by Cambridge-based Avita Medical.

Zed’s dead skin was removed before surgeons took a small sample of his healthy skin, around the size of a postage stamp, from his belly.

The sample was placed in the ReCell device, which uses an enzyme to break down the healthy skin into a solution.

The skin cells were then sprayed over the damaged area.

Nicky says: ‘It sounded incredible. They even applied special dressings which gradually lift off as the wound heals underneath.

‘It was certainly a relief as a mother – it meant Zed wouldn’t have to go through the painful process of having bandages changed every day.

‘Zed came out of surgery fully bandaged so we didn’t have a clue what to expect. He was upset at first, but as soon as he was put in my arms he was fast asleep.’

Nicky had to wait three anxious days before Zed’s bandages came off for the first time.

At first his scalded skin was red and scabbed, but soon Nicky started to notice an amazing change.

‘We returned to the hospital every other day for check-ups’, says Nicky.

‘And every time his dressings were removed I thought ‘wow’. His skin was getting paler and paler. The speed of his recovery was remarkable.

‘To think that a tiny patch of skin has done this is incredible.’

Now, just five months on, Zed appears to be forgetting the trauma of what happened.

And Nicky has been told that he won’t need to go through the trauma of painful skin grafts as his spray-on skin will stretch with his body as he grows.

‘It’s remarkable just how well he’s dealt with it. He’s doing great now – and he’s certainly learnt what hot drinks can do,’ says Nicky.

‘We just want to say thank you to the surgeons for helping our little boy. I never dreamed he could look like this again.’


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