When a wound will not heal, exposure to the outside world can lead to dangerous infections, even putting a person at risk of amputation. Find out how skin substitutes from people, animals and research labs are helping to close wounds and rev up the body's healing process.
It has been a long year of healing for Bessie Vital after developing deep, painful ulcers in her legs. "It feels like fire," she said, "it burns, and you try to cool it off, but it's just hot."
The burning pain was coming from several open wounds, the result of poor circulation. "They were terrible," said Bessie, "they had big sores and I think most people would pass out."
The first priority for Dr. Gerald Mouton with Lake Charles Memorial's Wound Care Clinic was to get Bessie's swelling down in her legs. Then it was to turn the ulcers into good, healthy wounds where skin substitutes could be used to help close them up. "Those are put in wounds and work as a trellis for cells to attach and grow to promote the wound to start healing again," said Dr. Mouton.
There are a few types of skin substitutes, starting with a homograft. That is a skin graft from the same person. "This is very effective, but you also create another open wound that you have to heal," said Dr. Mouton.
Creating another wound was not the best option for Bessie, so the next skin substitute to consider was an allograft. That uses human tissue from someone else. "Tissues taken from the same species," said Dr. Mouton, "it would be from another human being, but it's not from the same person."
Then there is a xenograft, using live tissue from swine or cattle.
Finally, there is apligraf, a tissue-engineered human skin product. "It's real light, thin, but you can pull it," said Dr. Mouton, "and it's not going to tear or rip."
Dr. Mouton says apligraf is the best option for ulcers. Once it is placed on the wound, the body gets to work naturally. "There are fluids that are secreted in the wound that will promote growth of this tissue," said Dr. Mouton.
The process is slow, but it is working for Bessie who is ready to get back to her job of nursing others as a nurse's assistant. "Everybody has a calling and I think this is mine," she said.
If you notice that you have a wound that is not healing, immediately seek medical attention.
People with diabetes, vascular disease and limited mobility are at the highest risk of developing chronic wounds.