Chambers breathe healing into patients

Patients spending 90 minutes in a hyperbaric chamber can relax and watch television while healing their wounds.

Two months ago, the U replaced its credit union with a new hyperbaric medicine center in Research Park.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical procedure that has been used since the 1950s for treating scuba divers with the bends-a decompression illness caused by ascending too quickly out of the water-surgical wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning and other serious wounds and infections.

The flow of 100 percent oxygen combined with increased atmospheric pressure causes large amounts of oxygen to be dissolved into the blood and tissues of the patient.

This dissolved oxygen can penetrate areas of the body that oxygen-carrying red blood cells cannot reach, revitalizing tissues that receive poor blood flow.

Increased oxygen levels in the tissues stimulate healing processes, including the growth of new blood vessels.

Besides treating patients, one of the hyperbaric center’s main goals is research.

Michael Garey, director of hyberbaric medicine, and his team will be conducting several case studies to determine if hyperbaric therapy helps with brain injuries and cerebral palsy.

“Some infectious disease doctors will say that hyperbaric therapy is not proven to help [with brain injuries and cerebral palsy],” Garey said.

Currently, uninsured treatments cost $150 to $250 each session.

“Insurance companies do not cover the cost for strokes and cerebral palsy,” Garey said.

Until the hypothesis is actually proven, insurance companies will not approve the treatment.

Conditions that are covered by insurance companies include carbon monoxide poisoning, gas embolism, bone infections, crush injuries, flesh-eating bacteria, diabetic wounds and many other injuries and infections.

According to Samuel Saur, hyperbaric program director, patients who are at risk of losing a limb or other extremity have an 85 percent chance of keeping the limb through hyperbaric therapy.

A typical treatment includes 20 to 40 treatments and each session lasts 60 to 90 minutes.

Side effects are extremely rare and include claustrophobia, oxygen toxicity, which can lead to seizures, and in extreme cases spontaneous pneumothorax or rupture of the lung.

Diabetic patients must be cautious about their sugar intake prior to treatment, according to Saur.

The center has two mono place (one-person) chambers, and is currently constructing Salt Lake City’s first and only multi-place chamber, which will hold up to 20 people per session.

Each mono-place chamber ranges from $110,000 to $120,000, while one multi place chamber cost around $700,000 to build.

Garey said one of the center’s goals for the future is to offer the treatment for significantly less.

“The more patients who are using the chambers, the less it will eventually cost,” Garey said.

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