Hyperbaric chambers used to treat diabetes

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on July 10, 2010 at 5:56 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

More than 23 million people in the U.S. have diabetes.  About 15 percent will develop foot ulcers - large, painful sores that, in severe cases, force doctors to amputate.

Some patients are now saving their feet with a treatment that doesn't require them to move a muscle.

For diabetes patient Earl Rutledge, a good day is a major milestone.

"Two months ago, I didn't think I could do this, but now, everything's possible," he said.

Earl's blood wasn't circulating to his feet.  Amputation seemed likely.

Instead, Earl went into a hyperbaric chamber where patients are immersed in pressurized oxygen.

"They absorb it into their plasma, and by getting it into the plasma, that will actually get oxygen to an area where there's inadequate blood flow," said Darral Garrett, hyperbaric safety director at University Community Hospital.

It helps stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, which improves circulation and healing.

In a study, 89 percent of patients using the hyperbaric therapy avoided amputation compared to 60 percent who received conventional treatment.

Besides diabetic wounds, the chamber is used to heal trauma injuries, bone infections and radiation burns.

Patients stay in the chamber for two hours a day, five days a week for about two months.

"In his initial assessment his tendons were showing on his foot and with 32 minutes of hyperbarics he was able to completely heal," said Melanie Poulin, University Community Hospital in Tampa, Florida.

Earl’s foot is still a little swollen, but he can now leave his crutches - and worries of amputation -- behind.

“It's a blessing,” he said.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is covered by insurance; however, it's not a good treatment for those with seizures or respiratory problems.

Hyperbaric treatment is available at Virginia Mason and Northwest Hospital.
 

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