A Game Changer

Hyperbaric oxygen’s many uses include mobilizing stem cells in MS patients.

Joni Zwick was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. When her youngest entered kindergarten, she decided to reenter the workforce and contribute to her family financially. But not just any job would do.

Joni tending to her garden

Joni Zwick

“I needed a job that allowed me to be home by 1:30 on Wednesdays for early school release and by 2:30 the rest of the week so I could get my daughter off the school bus.” Joni, 59, explains. “My husband suggested real estate.”

Having moved frequently over the years to accommodate her husband’s career as an engineer, Joni reasoned that she could do the job at least as well as the real estate agents she has dealt with, so she launched her career as a Realtor in January 2004.

“Realtors are independent contractors,” Joni expounds. “During the past 16½ years, I built a book of businesses in Ponte Vedra Beach and the Jacksonville beaches. I continue to serve those clients as well as their referrals.”

It makes Joni feel good to help people achieve their real estate goals, whether they’re buying or selling. But Joni’s good feelings vanished in 2017, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative neurological disease. Joni’s condition deteriorated rapidly as increasing nerve damage from the disease disrupted the communication between her brain and body.

“Spasticity in my legs affected my mobility, and I started to fall a lot,” Joni discloses. “Difficulty with cognitive thinking made me feel like I was in a cloud, and I couldn’t quite pull out of it. MS comes with a fatigue that’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s not like I can take a nap or get a good night’s sleep and it goes away. It doesn’t go away.”

With her life radically disrupted by her symptoms, Joni began researching potential MS treatments and came upon stem cell therapy. Stem cells are “building block” cells that morph into other cell types with specialized functions, such as nerve cells.

For stem cell therapy, stem cells taken from the patient’s adipose tissue are typically combined with platelet rich plasma (PRP) from the patient’s blood. PRP boosts stem cell growth.

Stem Cells Mobilized

While Joni was researching stem cell therapy, she discovered that hyperbaric oxygen helps the stem cells get to the areas of need in the body.

“It’s said to be the best thing you can do after stem cell therapy,” Joni relates. “All the hospitals in town have hyperbaric chambers, but they use them to treat diabetic ulcers and other wounds.”

To accommodate her needs, Joni was forced to look for a hyperbaric clinic outside the area. Ultimately, she landed at Hyperbaric Health Services in Palatka, where she met with S. Mitchell “Mitch” Hall, CHS, a certified hyperbaric specialist.

Mitch confirmed the theory that hyperbaric oxygen therapy maximizes the impact of stem cell therapy for MS.

“MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the brain,” Mitch observes. “Lesions develop in the brain when inflamed autoimmune cells cross the blood-brain barrier and destroy the protective coating around the nerve cells. There’s no cure for MS, and it’s difficult to treat with standard medications. For that reason, many patients seek alternative treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases stem cell mobilization. Research shows that after a short course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy alone, up to 8 times more of our own stem cells are mobilized compared to the number of stem cells regularly available. In addition, the therapy’s pressurized oxygen crosses the blood-brain barrier and creates new blood vessels. These blood vessels deliver extra healing oxygen to the injured areas of the brain to speed up repair of damaged tissue.

After regular exposure to hyperbaric oxygen – as few as 20 treatments – MS patients begin to feel better and typically realize improvement in mobility, gait, bladder control and pain, Mitch explains.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of 14 health conditions, including diabetic wounds and carbon monoxide poisoning. It is considered an “off-label” treatment for multiple sclerosis.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy makes me feel good and holds my MS symptoms at bay.” – Joni

“Off-label doesn’t mean the treat-ment doesn’t work for MS,” Mitch assures. “It simply means more evidence of its benefits is required before the FDA will endorse it as a standard treatment for MS. Keep in mind that all 14 currently FDA-approved uses for hyperbaric oxygen therapy were once considered off-label.”

Hyperbaric Health Services uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy for other off-label indications as well. One is Lyme disease, a bacterial infection contracted through the bite of an infected tick.

“People with Lyme disease regularly experience abnormal responses to toxins released by a die off of bacteria and fungus. These responses are called Herx reactions,” Mitch explains. “When patients have a Herx reaction, they feel very lethargic, have difficulty breathing and are generally unable to function in daily life. Symptoms of a Herx reaction can last for weeks.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy detoxifies the body and induces a Herx reaction. But the reaction’s symptoms resolve much quicker; patients feel better in a matter of days, not weeks. As a result, the dreaded Herx reactions have less impact on patients’ lives.”

Hyperbaric Health Services also uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy to slow the aging process. Aging has been directly correlated with biobehavior, specifically the shortening of telomeres, sections of DNA found on the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres produce proteins essential for cell function.

“Current research out of Israel shows that telomere length can be extended by up to 20 percent using hyperbaric oxygen,” Mitch reveals. “But it will likely take years before the FDA endorses the therapy for this use. For now, it remains an off-label indication.”

Out of the Fog

Joni has received two rounds of stem cell therapy since her MS diagnosis in 2017. She followed up with visits to Hyperbaric Health Services both times. On each occasion, she completed 20 treatment sessions.

“After about the fifth time in the hyperbaric chamber, I don’t hurt. I have more energy, and I can think clearly,” Joni declares. “My brain comes out of the fog into the sunlight. It feels like my whole body is healing.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy makes me feel good and holds my MS symptoms at bay. It gets my blood supply to every part of my body so it can heal itself. It isn’t a cure for MS, but it totally helps relieve its symptoms. It’s a game changer!”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photo by Jordan Pysz. js
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