TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A high-pressure oxygen treatment used to help divers recover from accidents has also gained widespread use in helping heal wounds.
It's called hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
St. Marys Fire Chief Ray Barthuly experienced the benefits first hand.
Ray has battled problems related to diabetes since he was diagnosed in his 30s. About three years ago, he says he developed a blister on his foot that became infected. He admits he didn't seek medical attention as soon as he should have and, eventually, he had his toes and part of his right foot amputated. The blister came back, and, again, Ray says he put off treatment, and, again, it wouldn't heal.
By that point, Ray says, he was fearful he would lose more of his leg. He consulted his family doctor, who referred him to a wound specialist. The move led him to the hyperbaric oxygen chambers at the Stormont-Vail Wound Care Center in Topeka.
Dr. Robert Holmes, a board certified would care and hyperbaric medicine specialist, says cells need oxygen to repair themselves. In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients are placed in a chamber where they breath 100 percent oxygen under pressure. He says this increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, which stimulates the body to heal.
Dr. Holmes says it's especially effective in diabetics, like Ray. He says part of the problem with many wounds is that circulation is so poor, not enough oxygen gets to the skin, so the skin itself begins to die, or new skin trying to form to heal the wound cannot survive.
Treatments typically last two hours. They're done daily for a total of 20 to 40 treatments, depending on the severity of the wound.
Ray's treatments were done in conjunction with advanced wound therapy, where a lab-created layer of skin grown from human cells is placed over the affected area. Dr. Holmes says that skin tissue provides nutrients and chemicals and proteins necessary for wound healing to begin. Once it is started, the body will take over and eventually the lab-created skin will disappear.
Ray went from the prospect of losing his leg to opening the door on reaching his future goals.
He says he has just over five years to go until retirement and having the opportunity to pursue the advanced treatments means he has a better chance of being able to make it.
Doctors expect the demand for this type of treatment to increase with the rise in the number of people with diabetes, who have difficult to heal wounds.