Amputation avoided thanks to hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Hard to heal wounds are now being restored to health, all by a patient breathing in and breathing out.

Mary Robertson is about to go "diving."  This 62-year-old retired school teacher is steadily dropping below sea level, breathing in pure oxygen to heal the physical effects of a rare autoimmune disorder.  "My hands get very cold and I lose blood flow to my fingers and they turn white and blue and almost sting, like frostbite," she said.

A cold room, even stress, can stop the blood flow to Mary's fingertips.

Prior to undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Mary's fingertips were covered with ulcers and an infection reached into her bones - nearly forcing amputations.  "The doctor just said, 'If this continues and we can't heal them, then my job will be to amputate your fingertips.'"

Mary's fingertip salvation has come thanks to the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, something Dr. Abhishek Agarwal uses for hard to heal wounds.  "Diabetic ulcers, veinous ulcers, arterial ulcers, crush injuries," he said, "these are the wounds that typically take a long time to heal."

Inside the chamber, Mary breathes in 100 percent pure oxygen at an atmospheric pressure about two times what we are typically used to.  It is that combination that gets more oxygen in the bloodstream, leading to the best results.  "It dissolves more oxygen within the blood and that oxygen, when it reaches the wound area, which is hypoxic gives a lot of oxygen to that non-healing tissue," said Dr. Agarwal.

Mary has been undergoing treatments almost every day for a month now in 90 minute sessions. Her healing is noticeable.  "I appreciate once again just being able to tie my shoes, to put on makeup. I have two granddaughters in town, just to turn the pages of a book," she said.

Those are the little things that Mary looks forward to enjoying again, once her fingertips are back in tip top shape.

Patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy are typically prescribed between 30 and 40 treatments, five days a week, and they last anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

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