COLUMBIA — Patients with chronic wounds that refuse to heal with common medical treatment have a fresh breath of hope.
Boone Hospital Center on Wednesday held an open house to showcase its two new hyperbaric chambers that use concentrated oxygen under pressure to treat wounds. Previously, only University Hospital offered the specialized treatment in Columbia.
Kimberly Jamison, medical director of wound healing center at Boone Hospital, said patients in a hyperbaric chamber breathe 100 percent oxygen at a pressure that equals the sensation of diving 33 feet under the sea. Normally, she said, people breathe 21 percent oxygen.
"This will help drive more oxygen into tissues, helping ulcers to heal more quickly and can be used to treat bone infection," Jamison said.
While hyperbaric chambers can treat carbon monoxide poisoning, and some experts are looking to use the chambers to treat cerebral palsy and autism, the ones at Boone Hospital will mostly be used to treat wounds.
"These can be diabetic wounds, pressure wounds or vascular ulcers," Jamison said. The chambers will also be used to heal grafts, radiation wounds and infection of bones.
Patients need to go through four weeks of wound therapy before they can qualify for treatment in hyperbaric chambers. They also need to go through several checks — lung function and ear checks are some of the most important — to make sure they are fit for the treatment. Patients with claustrophobia aren't suited.
"Inside the chamber, a patient feels like they are in a jet plane with an increased pressure on the ear drums," Jamison said.
In the case of diabetic patients , physicians check their blood sugar levels and vascular systems , apart from chest X-rays. "It can take three to seven days before a patient is put inside the chamber," said Kim Mitchell, nurse supervisor at the wound clinic.
Referrals for the specialized treatment can be self-generated or physician- generated. The chambers at Boone Hospital are being used to treat two patients, both in their 50s. One of them, a diabetic with a foot infection, needs 30 treatments, each lasting two hours.
The other patient undergoing treatment is a diabetic who went through neck surgery for throat cancer 15 years ago. Radiation from the treatment has left his jaw bone too fragile for dental work. He will need 20 sessions in the chamber to firm up the bone. The patient can have dental work and then has to come back for 10 more sessions, Jamison said.
Patients with Medicare are eligible for free treatment. "In case of private insurance, the center has to make sure the patients are pre-certified and they will be covered," said Amy Bierk, program director at the hospital's wound healing center.
Each of the sessions costs $600, Bierk said. Each of the hyperbaric chambers cost $125,000.
The five-member hyperbaric chamber has physicians from nephrology, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, internal medicine and gastro-entrology departments tomake it a more multidisciplinary approach to treatment.
"Maybe only 5 percent of our patients will need hyperbaric chamber treatment," Jamison said. "But we are there for them, too."