WOUND HEALING: Dive in with JABSOM’s Hyperbaric Treatment Center

This story was originally posted at the John A. Burns School of Medicine news site. Photos I took at the Hyperbaric Treatment Center can be seen at the John A. Burns School of Medicine Flick page.

DIVE IN! With JABSOM’s Hyperbaric Treatment Center from UHMed on Vimeo.

WOUND HEALING: Dive in with JABSOM’s Hyperbaric Treatment Center
By Deborah Manog, UH MED NOW Student Journalist

Everyday patients at the University of Hawai`i Hyperbaric Treatment Center take a dive without ever getting wet.

This particular dive is not one where you plunge deep into the ocean. It is oxygen therapy, and it resembles the feeling of ascent in an airplane.

“You go up in a plane, same thing,” says patient Enid Sosna. “After you settle down it (the feeling) doesn’t bother me.”

A plastic hood is placed over the patient’s head, along with a neck seal to ensure that the oxygen doesn’t escape from the bottom of the hood. A care provider monitors that the correct amount of oxygen is flowing in and out of the hood at all times. The pressure is controlled within the hyperbaric chamber, which allows the oxygen to dissolve deeper within a patient’s tissues. This high saturation of oxygen increases a person’s healing potential.

The patients in the hyperbaric chamber are actually breathing “100% oxygen versus the 21% we normally breathe as regular air” said Chamber Supervisor Kurk Jamison.

Hyperbaric medicine has typically been used to treat divers through the decompression chamber but now the chamber has been expanding to treat patients with cancer and flesh-eating disease and to prevent diabetic patients from unnecessarily losing their limbs.

Dr. Robert Look is a retired dentist who refused amputation of his foot when he was diagnosed with staphylococcus aureus, a disease that is considered difficult to cure. He was told that without amputation, his future was grim.

“You either go crazy or you have a stroke or you have a heart attack because the bloodstream will be contaminated,” said Look.

His geriatric physician told him that at his age of 85, prosthetics was out of the picture. “He said, ‘After amputation, you’re gonna be a prisoner of your wheelchair’”, said Look.

He tried different types of alternative medicine including acupuncture, which did not help his condition. He was almost out of ideas until a family friend introduced him to the idea of hyperbaric medicine.

The beauty of hyperbaric medicine lies in its ability to help grow new blood cells into the affected areas and heal them.

Dr. Look’s open injury was once the size of a quarter but has since dwindled down to the size of a nickel after thirty dive sessions or less than two and a half months of hyperbaric treatment.

Dr. George Macris, Medical Director at the Hyperbaric Treatment Center, explains that amputation should be the last resort to treating diabetic ulcers. “Fifty percent of people with diabetic foot ulcers will be dead in five years and if they get an amputation because of it, 22% per year will die,” says Macris. “In five years they’re almost all dead.

Macris has seen the nearly miraculous effects of hyperbaric medicine firsthand. He hopes that the popularity of this type of treatment will catch on in the Hawaiian Islands, as it has in the mainland United States.

One of the reasons he pursued hyperbaric medicine is because he lost his father, who had a diabetic problem, at an early age. “You just don’t hear about them after five years and you find out they died or you see them in the obituary,” says Macris. “We’re trying to stop that, we can stop eight percent of those.”

Three years ago Enid Sosna was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and suffered after rounds of chemotherapy. Pain from the radiation and difficulty swallowing eventually led to her having a tooth pulled and it left a hole inside of her mouth that never healed.

Sosna is a resident from the island of Maui and she has only been doing the hyperbaric treatments for a month and already has no pain.

Sosna realizes that the hyperbaric treatment hasn’t just relieved her of her oral pain but has also given her a better quality of life.

“I walk better, I walk longer and I don’t get tired as much” said Sosna. Although “I’ve suffered for three years and it’s finally a relief,” says Sosna. “Thank God I came here, it’s a blessing.”