Everyone knows that oxygen is essential to life. But did you know that it is also a powerful healing tool? Because of pure oxygen’s effectiveness in healing some of the most serious wounds and medical conditions, the Floyd Memorial Wound Healing Center has brought hyperbaric oxygen therapy to Southern Indiana. Brian Heimer, MD, a specialist in family medicine and fellow of the American Professional Wound Care Association, provided details about this remarkable treatment.
How Oxygen Therapy Works
“During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient breathes 100 percent oxygen inside a pressurized chamber,” Dr. Heimer explained. “The pressure helps deliver a high concentration of oxygen into the bloodstream, substantially increasing the amount of oxygen that reaches damaged tissues. This enhances healing, fights
infections and stimulates the growth of blood vessels to improve circulation.”
The chamber is clear so patients can see out during therapy, which usually lasts about two hours. Patients may rest or watch TV on a flat screen monitor above the chamber. A technician is always in the room and can converse with the patient.
Healing Wounds and Preventing Amputation
“I see many patients with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, emphysema and diabetes that can make wounds difficult to heal because of poor oxygenation,” said Dr. Heimer. Patients with diabetes, for example, are more likely to develop small blood vessel disease. They may also have a nerve condition in their limbs called peripheral neuropathy, which can prevent them from feeling a wound until it has become serious. The availability of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is becoming more and more important in my practice.”
Julie Hutchinson, MD, is a general surgeon who has studied with physicians who are doing hyperbaric therapy on a daily basis in other cities. As she explained, “The therapy yields a high rate of wound healing and decreases the time it takes. People with diabetes are at a high risk of amputation due to wounds that won’t heal. Saving limbs that might otherwise be lost is one of our biggest goals.”
The technology behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy was developed by the Navy to prevent deep sea divers who ascend to the surface too rapidly from developing decompression illness, also known as the bends. According to Dr. Heimer, who is a member of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, “The basic technology used on Jacques Cousteau’s ship is the same as what we use in hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”