hand wounds 325x215About 8 million Americans suffer from chronic wounds and the number is growing due to an aging population and the rising incidence of diabetes. Fortunately, hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) treatment therapy is a painless, highly effective method to heal wounds that are not responding to other treatments.

Everyone knows that oxygen is essential for breathing, but you might not be aware that skin tissue needs an adequate supply of oxygen to function.

When tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen to survive and heal. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry by using a pressurized tube to deliver 100 percent oxygen – as compared with 21 percent in the air we breathe.

“Essentially, HBO therapy helps to heal the wound from the inside out,” says Judi Saxe, program manager, St. Luke’s Wound Care Center at St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem. “HBO therapy helps to fight bacteria, reduce swelling and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing and build new blood vessels. Typically, it is used in combination with other wound treatments and is performed as an outpatient procedure.”

During HBO sessions, patients lie in clear acrylic chambers filled with pressurized oxygen while they nap, watch television or listen to music. The pressure combined with pure oxygen increases the concentration of oxygen in the blood stream, enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.

“When seeking this type of treatment, look for professionals with specialized training in HBO therapy,” Saxe says. “At St. Luke’s, only physicians, nurses and technicians, who are trained and credentialed in hyperbaric therapy, oversee HBO treatment. This results in better outcomes and improved quality of life.”

Kathy Mikolon, 73, of Phillipsburg, is just one example of a patient who benefited from HBO therapy. About five years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently received a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. Unfortunately, she later developed radionecrosis, a complication of cancer radiation therapy. Her breast became hard and swollen and the wound would not heal. “I was in excruciating pain,” she says. “I saw a vascular surgeon. He took one look at it and said, ‘Oh my gosh, you can’t go on like this.’ He connected me with the Wound Care Center right away.”

A subsequent surgery and about 40 HBO treatments over a couple of months and the pain went away, never to return, she says. She adds that she was delighted by how well she was treated and credits the therapy for saving her life.

“They really cared,” Kathy said. “I watched them treat many, many people and everyone just praised them. I cannot thank the wound care center enough.”

In addition, HBO therapy is effective in treating:
Diabetic ulcers wounds of the lower extremities and feet with vascular complications
Head and neck cancer patients who need oral surgery or extractions that have had radiation treatments (ORN)
Bladder and bowel problems related to radiation treatments (STRN)
Non-healing skin grafts of failing flaps
Crush injuries
Chronic bone infections (CRO)

To confer with a wound care specialist about HBO therapy or to make a referral, call one of the following St. Luke’s Wound Care Centers:

St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem Campus, 484-526-2440 St. Luke’s Hospital – Allentown Campus, 610-628-8610
St. Luke’s Hospital – Warren Campus, 908-213-6653
For Kathy’s story, visit http://www.slhn.org/Conditions-Services/Wound-Management/Hyperbaric-Medicine.

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