A deep dive: How hyberbaric oxygen treatment helps patients heal

January 20, 2020  //  FOUND IN: News,

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Every day at Domino’s Farms, patients come to the Michigan Medicine Comprehensive Wound Care Clinic to go for a dive. But they never have to go near a swimming pool or lake — or any body of water at all. Instead, they enter a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which helps wounds heal faster and more effectively.

“We call our treatments ‘dives’ because our chamber is pressurized to 2.2 ATA (atmospheres absolute), which is the equivalent of scuba diving down 40 feet of seawater,” said Kate McKenney, administrative manager for the Wound Clinic. “It’s a unique treatment that not many people know about.”

How it works

Michigan Medicine has a multiplace hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) chamber — a room where up to 10 patients and two staff members can come and spend two and a half hours at a time for treatment.

“When a patient comes in, the chamber is pressurized, and once at pressure a hood is placed on the patient, which provides them with 100 percent oxygen,” McKenney said.

The pressurization and oxygen hoods are the most important aspects of the treatment.

“The increased atmospheric pressure, along with the patient receiving 100 percent oxygen through the hood, allows both your blood and blood plasma to carry oxygen more effectively,” said Rob DeLeon, lead hyperbaric technician. “This saturates the body with oxygen and improves the body’s effectiveness in healing wounds. All of our practices are backed up by research, showing that it’s one of the more impactful ways to treat various ailments.”

Among the 14 diagnoses approved for HBO treatment are non-healing wounds from arterial disease, along with diabetic foot ulcers and osteomyelitis (bone infections). The Wound Clinic also treats quite a few patients with soft-tissue radionecrosis and radiation cystitis, which is caused by radiation treatment killing soft tissues that do not then regenerate properly.

‘We’ve become family’

Many organizations that offer HBO treatment do so with monoplace chambers — which look like a glass tube. Such treatment is carried out individually, and can lead to feelings of isolation and claustrophobia among patients.

“That is what most people associate hyperbaric oxygen treatment with and that’s not what we offer here,” McKenney said.

Instead, the chamber at Domino’s Farms can hold up to 10 patients in it at once and those inside can stand up and move around whenever they’d like.

“Think of it like an airplane cabin,” McKenney said. “Patients sit together, there is a television and Netflix in there and you get to know one another.”

Patients wear a hood for 30 minutes at a time, then take it off for 10 minutes. The patients are continually monitored by staff members in the chamber. That cycle takes place three times before daily treatment is complete.

With many patients coming in five days a week for up to six weeks at a time, they tend to build camaraderie with one another.

“We’ve become family,” said David Womboldt, a patient who receives HBO treatment after being referred by his colorectal team at University Hospital. “It helps to have these relationships and get to know other people who are going through similar experiences.”

Here to help

The HBO team carries out two “dives” per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That means up to 20 patients can get the treatment they need — and the team has capacity to see more patients than they do now.

“At Michigan Medicine, our team can become just another part of a patient’s comprehensive, well-rounded care,” McKenney said. “If other treatments have been ineffective, it may be time to give HBO a try.”

Womboldt said it’s been the perfect option for him and his family. And he’d recommend it to all who could benefit.

“From the front desk to the chamber itself, everyone has been very professional and friendly, showing that they genuinely care about us,” he said. “The staff develops a personal connection, asking questions and sensing when we need something. Working with the Wound Clinic has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.”

If you have any questions about HBO treatment, the Wound Clinic or if one of your patients could benefit from a referral, please call 734-936-9795 or email Kate McKenney (kmcken@med.umich.edu) or Rob DeLeon (deleonr@med.umich.edu).