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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for stubborn wounds.

Naperville Sun HealthAware column:

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
February 18, 2013
Pat Wujcik, now 71, went to the doctor in 2005 seeking treatment for a painful bunion.
“He told me the bone deformity went beyond that of a simple bunion,” she recalls. “He also said the surgery would carry some risk.”

Between 2005 and late 2012, the Chicago Ridge resident ended up seeing two podiatrists and an orthopedic surgeon, and having six foot surgeries. These included multiple efforts to implant artificial joints or metal plates. She endured a number of problems, including infection and breakage of one of the plates.

The worst came in September when Wujcik developed a blood clot and necrosis (death of tissue) in her big toe, which ultimately had to be amputated. She was left with a huge wound that didn’t respond to routine treatment.

Her orthopedic surgeon referred her to wound specialist Dr. Jean Walsh, medical director of the Edward Wound Healing Center, who recommended a course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

“This therapy uses 100 percent oxygen under pressure to help wounds heal,” Dr. Walsh says. “The pressurized oxygen promotes growth factors that help blood vessels grow, and it’s toxic to bacteria. It also supports the immune system and makes antibiotics more effective.”

For the first two days, Wujcik was able to recline comfortably for her two-hour sessions in the hyperbaric chamber. But ear pain on day three caused a half-day break in her routine so that tubes could be inserted in her ears.

“For the rest of my 38 sessions, I talked myself into relaxing, and I haven’t had any problems since,” she says. “I would watch TV for the first 55 minutes, and at the end of the session, I’d take a nap. The wound care staff was very caring and looked in on me constantly.”

Wujcik is finished with the treatment, but regularly visits the Wound Healing Center. Dr. Walsh says her wound should soon be completely healed. And the best news is that the therapy has saved Wujcik’s foot.

Another of Walsh’s HBOT patients is Gretchen Arnott, who had tissue damage from radiation therapy she had undergone for breast cancer. According to Walsh, HBOT in April helped Arnott’s tissue heal to the point where she could undergo breast reconstruction after a mastectomy in May.

The reconstruction involved creating a flap from abdominal tissue to form a new breast. Another round of HBOT helped provide sufficient blood supply to the graft, but some of the abdominal tissue in the graft still didn’t take. Walsh added another element to Arnott’s wound treatment: wound vac therapy, which provides vacuum-assisted drainage for the wound.

“The wound vac worked wonders,” Arnott says. “And if someone’s doctor suggests hyperbaric oxygen therapy, I’d recommend it.”

“For patients who are getting hyperbaric oxygen therapy for difficult-to-heal wounds, it’s a big advantage to have the wound healing resources and the hyperbaric chamber tied together,” says Walsh, who works full time in the Wound Healing Center.

Learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy.


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