Healing Power Of O2

Pressure increases oxygen level in blood, accelerating wound healing.

In the early 1970s, Joseph* graduated from a St. Johns County community college, which he attended on an art scholarship. In 1976, he joined the Army. There weren’t many jobs for an artist in the Army, so he took his career in a different direction.

Dr. Milanick, left, and Mitch reveal the hyperbaric chambers
they use at Hyperbaric Health Services.

“It was right after Vietnam,” Joseph, 64, remembers. “I didn’t want to sleep in a hole or get shot at, but I wanted to get the GI Bill so I could go back to school. There was nothing available with my art degree, so I became a corpsman and served in a hospital as an eye specialist. And I was good at it.

“After the Army, I worked as an aide for a while and then returned to school and became an LPN [licensed practical nurse]. I went to work on the medical floor at a hospital in Palatka, where I did all manner of tasks. Over the years, I’ve worked with children as well as geriatric patients.”

But the Florida native was forced to give up his LPN duties early this year when a wound spontaneously erupted on his left leg and would not heal. Initially, Joseph treated the open wound himself, but eventually it became so problematic that he consulted his primary care provider.

“There was an ulcer on my left shin caused by bad circulation in my leg,” Joseph confirms. “It was oval-shaped and about 4½ to 5 inches wide. It caused a burning sensation, like nerve pain, but because there was no circulation down there, I really didn’t feel it that much. I bandaged the wound myself but it didn’t get any better, so I went to my doctor.

“My doctor ordered x-rays and other tests to make sure there wasn’t an infection in my bone. I went to a hospital for wound care with antibiotics for a long time, and the ulcer still didn’t heal. After that, I saw a cardiologist, who performed an arteriogram and ablation and inserted a stent to hold open the artery in my leg.”

When the wound continued to fester despite these treatments, his primary care provider referred him to Hyperbaric Health Services in Palatka. That’s where he met with S. Mitchell “Mitch” Hall, CHS, a certified hyperbaric specialist, who recommended treating Joseph’s leg through a comprehensive wound care regimen that included hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

“Upon first examining Joseph’s wound, I recognized immediately that it was compromised of oxygen,” Mitch reports. “I felt certain that by combining hyperbaric oxygen therapy – which uses 100 percent oxygen under pressure – with our advanced wound care techniques, we would be able to heal his wound in a relatively short time.”

Reversing Hypoxia

Oxygen is the primary converter of fuel for the body’s cells, which is why it is imperative that cells have a sufficient amount. Cells compromised of oxygen cannot function and will either go dormant or die, a condition called hypoxia. An area of compromised cells is a wound. To heal, wounds need a steady flow of oxygen.

“We carry oxygen around our bodies via hemoglobin attached to our red blood cells,” Mitch describes. “But hemoglobin is limited. It can carry only up to four molecules of oxygen, and once it’s full, it’s full. It doesn’t matter how much oxygen you breathe on the surface, you’re not going to get any more oxygen than that.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy shrinks the volume of gas containing oxygen molecules. Additionally, the added pressure causes saturation of the blood plasma, which can then carry the oxygen molecules in a much greater volume. Through this process, we get up to 1,200 times the amount of oxygen into the blood plasma and, as a result, into your body to heal your wounds.”

This increase in oxygen immediately sparks a reversal of the hypoxia. The process also acts on the individual’s DNA, which is present on thousands of genes that have roles in the healing process.

“The increased pressure induces the development of new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis,” Mitch explains. “The new blood vessels allow for more blood flow to the compromised area, so even when you’re not under pressure in the hyperbaric chamber, you’re experiencing additional blood flow to your wound. That reduces inflammation and promotes collagen, bone and cartilage repair by mobilizing stem cells.”

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an adjunct to the advanced wound care techniques used at Hyperbaric Health Services. These techniques include debridement of the wound, regularly removing nonviable tissue so that viable tissue can flourish.

“We offer patients a variety of biologic modalities and various forms of biological and surgical debridement,” Mitch relates. “We use select dressings and, in some cases, what’s called a wound VAC, or negative pressure therapy. During this treatment, we place a patch attached to a small battery-operated pump over the wound, which causes a slight negative pressure that draws out the nonviable fluids and encourages the bed of the wound to grow.

“In addition, we use the latest technology in artificial and biological skin grafting. We perform DNA sequencing on wound cultures to find the specific bacteria DNA that make a wound unique. And knowing that, we can target the wound with the proper antibiotics. When we add hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it’s very effective wound healing.”

Heartfelt Approval

Joseph completed 30 hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions over a 90-day period. During that period, the open wound on his leg started to heal. The ulcer isn’t totally gone yet, but Mitch and his team have made steady progress toward that goal.

“During the procedure, they started by putting me in this big acrylic tube, and then they changed the pressure,” Joseph recalls. “It’s like being in a submarine, and they pump the tube full of 100 percent oxygen, which gets down into the wound and helps it heal. And it works; it just takes time. It’s not like Star Trek. You can’t just wave a wand over the wound and make it better. Rather, it’s a slow process. The staff explained how the nature of some wounds, like those from bad circulation, makes them slower to heal. But after about a month and a half, I could see a difference.

“Today, my wound is still there, but it’s much better. It’s shrunk to about a third of the size it was. The burning nerve pain is better as well. I’m still receiving wound care at Hyperbaric Health Services once a week. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is just one part of its entire wound care strategy.”

“By using the combination approach with Joseph, we were able to get his wound under control in three months, compared to the many months he spent trying to treat it with other therapies,” Mitch reports. “He is receiving regular maintenance on his wound currently.”

As Joseph continues to be treated at Hyperbaric Health Services, he emphasizes how positive his experience with them was.

“I’m very satisfied with the folks at Hyperbaric Health Services,” he says. “Everybody there is great, and they treat me like family. They’re highly professional and totally above board. I definitely recommend them and already have. I’d recommend them to my family!”

*Patient’s name changed at his request.
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