|PATIENT STORY: GRETCHEN ARNOTT
When Lisle resident Gretchen Arnott, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2006, she didn't know her upcoming battle would give her a common experience with some deep sea divers and astronauts: a stint in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has long been used to treat "the bends," a dangerous illness that can result from the extreme pressure changes in diving or working outside a spacecraft. Today this therapy also helps heal stubborn wounds, such as those that can occur in people with diabetes or hypertension, or cancer patients who've undergone radiation.
"This therapy uses 100 percent oxygen at pressure that is two to three times the pressure we normally experience," says Jean Walsh, DO, medical director of the Edward Wound Healing Center. "It's been found that this pressurized oxygen increases oxygen in every cell. It promotes factors that help blood vessels grow and it's toxic to bacteria. This means it supports the immune system and makes antibiotics more effective."
Arnott's initial cancer treatment focused on chemotherapy; she began radiation therapy in 2011. A side effect of the radiation was necrosis, or tissue death, which led to a large wound on her breast that resisted healing. She began the hyperbaric oxygen treatments at Edward in April and spends about 10 hours a week in one of the center's two see-through, pressurized chambers. The pressure is the equivalent of diving about 66 feet below sea level.
"I'm willing to do what it takes to improve, and with this therapy I just have to lie there," says Arnott. "I can watch TV and sometimes even doze off."
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helped Arnott's wound improve to a point where she was able to undergo reconstructive surgery, and it's now helping her surgical incisions to heal. Her doctors tell her they're pleased with her progress.
Edward is one of only a few area hospitals to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
"Most people need between 20 and 60 two-hour visits," says Dr. Walsh. "One of our patients with arteriosclerosis who started in April is now finishing up. He was able to avoid amputation thanks to these treatments."
The interdisciplinary team at the Edward Wound Healing Center includes primary care physicians, surgeons, certified wound/ostomy nurses and podiatrists trained in wound care. They offer a comprehensive treatment program that includes a variety of advanced medical and surgical treatments. Each patient receives an individualized treatment plan that draws from these resources.
For information, call the Edward Wound Healing Center at (630) 527-3002 or visit www.edward.org/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy.