Working with RAFT

I never had this problem before.

When I worked for the US Coast Guard, a newspaper in Hong Kong, the Thames Valley Police – even at a feng shui magazine - nobody ever gave me a completely blanked looked when I said where I worked.

But then I started writing for RAFT.

“RAFT? Is that some sort of lifeboat organisation?”

“No, it’s the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust, you know, RAFT.”

“Oh yeah…RAFT…Hey, I’d like to stay and talk about it but I need to find the cheese dip.”

No, it’s not always easy being a Rafter.

One of RAFT’s selling points is that it is unique when it comes to charities; unlike most research charities which then fund others to do their work, RAFT’s funds stay in-house and supports its own team of scientists.

Working for RAFT is unique as well.

The world of science and research is a very different world from most other jobs. There is no clock-in/ clock-out mentality, with someone on high dictating each day what you do. Work is project/grant driven and it is up to each to figure out what they do and where they fit in. As a writer, my job is similar.

Unlike working for a newspaper where you basically fill white space with ink every day, at RAFT it is up to me to figure out needed projects, get approval, and get writing. If I don’t, then I don’t work.

If you require constant supervision or a clear vision of your goals, then RAFT would not be your place. Scientists work in a world where everything is viewed through a murky glass; there are no clear, cut answers. It’s up to them to find the solutions and this philosophy is throughout RAFT.

For a writer, however, ‘murky’ is one of the best possible worlds to be in because one of the prime requirements of writing is to have a strong sense of curiosity.  If something is interesting to me, then that’s what I write about.

Oddly enough, working for RAFT reminds me very much of my Coast Guard days. Unlike the big services, the Coast Guard is small and so is its budget. While in the US Air Force $100 dollars screws are the norm, that could never happen in the Guard where a bag of gold-plated screws fit for a general would destroy its entire budget for the year. RAFT works under the same principal of frugality.

The Coast Guard is the smallest service in the States, with people working in small, close-knit teams; the same too is at RAFT. Everyone knows each other; their strengths and weakness and when the call goes out for ‘all hands on deck’; everyone responds.

What I find funny is that while RAFT is so small, it gets under your skin and seems to become a part of you. At times I’ve contacted plastic surgeons who did research here years ago; they still feel a part of the RAFT team.

Now let me go find that guy looking for the cheese dip. I’m sure he wants to hear more about RAFT.

Velo Mitrovich

Funny Women Charity Challenge

We are women. We are funny. 

Challenging perceptions about women and how they use humour. 

Funny Women was founded in 2002 by Lynne Parkerformer journalist, broadcaster and marketing consultant and has become a leading comedy brand, promoting new female talent through live events, workshops and training programmes. 

In celebration of their 10th Anniversary, Funny Women are holding an event on International Women’s Day, Thursday 8th March 2012 at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel to demonstrate that women are as funny as their male counterparts. 

Ten amazing high profile women from the worlds of business, media, politics and academia will perform stand-up for the first time in their lives and in turn support and raise funds for ten amazing charities. Thanks to our new Patron, Sharon Simpson, RAFT will be one of those charities who will benefit from this superb event.


Sharon says:

“I love to laugh and I think being able to make people laugh is a unique quality. Although when asked by Lynne to take part in the Funny Women Challenge, my immediate thought was, ‘I’m not funny’.

However, I love to be stretched outside of my comfort zone because through experience I know this is a great opportunity for growth. And, this is also a brilliant chance to do something valuable for RAFT, a charity of which I have just become a Patron.

So, with some training, guidance and support I hope to encourage some giggles and raise some cash.

As a sufferer of an illness which altered my appearance, and for some time, affected my confidence, I know first-hand how vital it is to have support from organisations such as RAFT, and I am honoured to offer mine in return.”

Further information on the event can be found here.

Sharon and everyone at RAFT would be most grateful if you would consider supporting Sharon as  she turns her hand to comedy by sponsoring her here.

Better alternative to skin grafts

RAFT’s Smart Matrix has the potential to become the new standard-of-care in the treatment of a variety of full thickness, life-threatening skin wounds.

Skin, the largest organ in the body, can suffer wounds that are difficult to treat and heal. Burns and skin ulcerations in particular can challenge any doctor and can easily lead to premature death. Although the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) can respond to treatment, the tough, thick inner layer of skin (dermis) does not reform during the healing of a full thickness wound.

“When a burn or chronic wound such as a leg ulcer severely damages skin, the body can never regenerate full thickness skin,” says Dr Julian Dye, RAFT group leader and Smart Matrix project leader. If the patient recovers, they are most times left with disfiguring scares which can impede body movement.

In addition, due to the amount of burns someone suffers, there might not be enough undamaged skin left for grafts or the poor health of the patient might forbid taking skin grafts. “For some patients, conventional grafts also come with the risk of simply creating a new wound site elsewhere on the body which cannot heal completely,” says Dr Dye.

But even in the healthiest of patients, removing of skin for grafts can easily lead to infection and is extremely painful.

London firefighter Richard Richards, who suffered severe burns while fighting a house fire, described the pain of having undamaged skin removed for grafts this way. “Go back to your childhood and remember the most painful skin scrap you ever had. Now multiply that pain by about a billion times.”

However, there may soon be a better alternative which will increase the survivability of patients.

Smart Matrix is an artificial skin scaffold which encourages rapid growth of blood capillaries when placed into a wound bed in the dermis. Much like how a scaffold supports the work around a home’s roof repairs, Smart Matrix also provides a scaffold, giving the body something to regenerate new skin around.

During the wound healing process, Smart Matrix attracts cells into the matrix and promotes growth of blood capillaries which is critical for the wound healing process. The scaffold is completely reabsorbed by the body within three weeks, by which time wound healing should have occurred.

All tests so far have been extremely encouraging and clinical trials should take place this year.

Katie: My Beautiful Friends

In 2008, as she rose to fame from her charismatic personality and growing modelling career, Katie Piper endured a devastating acid attack which shattered her world.

Katie worked in an industry obsessed with perfection of outer beauty, but amazingly gained the courage to step back into the industry after the attack which left her severely disfigured and blind in one eye. 

Since her attack, Katie has set up The Katie Piper Foundation which is ultimately working towards the delivery of an advanced rehabilitation and burns clinic in the UK. This will in time, include residential facilities for patients, enabling them to benefit fully from treatments and from social interaction with other survivors.  

Katie’s quest for helping those who are disfigured continues as she appears in the Channel 4 documentary Katie: My Beautiful Friends which screens tomorrow at 9pm. In the first of 4 episodes of this cutting edge documentary series, Katie: My Beautiful Friends, Katie meets two women who have experienced very different forms of disfigurement. Adele is a ballet student who suffers from burns covering her upper body, and Chantelle was born with a condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which means that a group of blood vessels are growing out of control deep in her nose, leaving her disfigured and threatening her life.

 RAFT supports the work of The Katie Piper Foundation which is working towards the delivery of an advanced rehabilitation and burns clinic in the UK. We are working on an artificial skin, the Smart MatrixTM, which will help to improve the lives of people like Katie, suffering from severe burns and wounds.

RAFT’s Group Leader Dr Julian Dye is working with his team to develop an artificial skin material that will not only treat the wound in the short-term but also allow more extensive wounds to be treated than ever before. The team is now performing rigorous testing in preparation for the next stage of development, setting up to manufacture under the standards required to perform a clinical trial. They are also working out how it might be best used to solve clinical challenges.


Mr Dobson, London Fire Commissioner of LFB talks about RAFT

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the largest fire and rescue service in the UK, and we are delighted to have Ron Dobson, London Fire Commissioner, featured on our guest blog this week. Mr. Dobson became London Fire Commissioner in 2007 having risen through the ranks since joining the Brigade in 1979.

“Our vision is to make London a safer city and to be a world class fire and rescue service for London. We have been loyal supporters of RAFT and just recently, have held a Service of Carols at St Paul’s Cathedral where we managed to raise £2,745.06. All proceeds were donated to RAFT this year.

 Last year, we invited some of the RAFT staff to attend a London Fire Brigade Skin Cancer Awareness Day at our LFB headquarters. Their Post Doctoral Research Scientist, Nick Kassouf, delivered a presentation on their work into skin cancer prevention, education and cure, which proved to be a success amongst our LFB staff. Lots of questions were asked, and Dr Nick Kassouf did his best to answer in hope that LFB staff would leave with the knowledge of RAFT’s work and the facts of skin cancer.

There was also a RAFT stand where their fundraisers provided leaflets and advice. We were delighted that they could share their information and provide further details of their research into skin cancer- education, prevention and cure.

In addition to this, I have personally written to all LFB staff who have obtained ballot places to run the marathon  in 2011, to encourage them to raise funds for RAFT. We already have one staff member signed up, Andy Hearn, who is aiming to raise a staggering £1K. 

 We are looking forward to working with RAFT this year as their research will have a tremendous positive impact on those suffering from burns, wounds and other skin disfiguring illnesses.”

We are extremely grateful to Mr. Dobson and all the LFB for their support and would like to thank them for all their fundraising efforts