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Unique wounds finally heal with hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Patients with chronic wounds can benefit from the oxygen’s healing properties

Kathy Carroll was taking part in that autumn ritual of raking leaves when a common task turned into an uncommon injury. As she was pushing a pile of leaves into a trash can, a stick punctured her left breast. As a former breast cancer patient, she was concerned. When February rolled around, and the wound still hadn’t healed, she called her doctor. Carroll was diagnosed with cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin, and had two surgeries by the end of June.

There is no typical wound. Each heals at its own pace and in stages. The healing process is dependent on the wound’s size, depth and how quickly the tissue can grow and rebuild itself. Some wounds require specialized treatment.

“It was a terrible time,” says Carroll. “Everything seemed to be going wrong. It was a constant battle. I developed a fungal infection and then reacted to the medication. In the middle of everything, I had a heart attack.”

Even after surgery, Carroll’s wound was still not healing properly, so she was referred to Augusta Health’s Wound Healing Clinic.

Carroll’s regimen included several treatments and procedures—dressings, vacuum procedures, medications and more. “I was an extreme case,” adds Carroll. “I didn’t think I would survive this; I was honestly prepared to die.” That’s when Carroll asked her doctor, Joseph Ranzini, MD, medical director of the Wound Healing Clinic, if she was going to die. Dr. Ranzini assured her, “Not on my watch!”

‘The Best Experience for the Worst Experience’

Kathy Carroll was nervous at first about her hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments, but before long, she was at ease—thanks, especially, to the medical staff who included her in every decision about her care along the way.

Carroll completed 39 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Augusta Health’s hyperbaric chambers. In a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal. Under these conditions, the lungs can gather more oxygen, which helps fight infection and promotes healing. Each of Carroll’s sessions was two hours long, and she had five sessions a week for eight weeks.

“At first I was nervous because it seemed like a pretty small place,” Carroll says. “It’s kind of like getting into an amusement park ride. It went perfectly, though. I felt calm. It was a piece of cake.”

The chamber is transparent, which allowed Carroll to see through and watch TV, but she couldn’t wear her glasses. “I’d tell the nurses to turn on ‘The Price is Right’ because it’s always the same—you don’t need to see it to figure out what’s happening!” Carroll says.

More than helping her stay entertained during therapy, the staff in the Wound Healing Clinic included Carroll in every decision and helped her psychologically return to complete health, she says.

“A wound is a slow process, and the treatments take a long time, so you really form a relationship that goes beyond your regular doctor-and-nurse relationship,” Carroll explains. “I felt love and joy from everyone at the Wound Clinic and still stop in to see them when I can.”

Carroll’s journey at the Wound Healing Clinic ended almost exactly a year after her injury. She is now completely healed and back to work part-time, but her next big step is retirement. She’ll be spending more time with her grandchildren and the daughter who took such good care of her while she was sick. She is, as she says, back to where she was “before the stick.”

Carroll summarizes her care and treatment at the Wound Healing Clinic this way: “It was the best experience for the worst experience of my life.”

Fred Strickler got to know other hyperbaric oxygen therapy patients and his medical team well during his eight-week treatment and shared candy from his job at Hershey’s with his new acquaintances.

A Perfect Storm

By the time he was referred to the Wound Healing Clinic, Fred Strickler had already tried surgery—twice—and radiation to deal with the uncomfortable fibromas (benign tumors made of connective tissue) on the bottom of his feet. The radiation brought some relief but also left a blister about the size of a silver dollar.

Strickler’s doctor popped the blister and took off the skin, allowing it to heal from the outside in and leaving a scar in the middle. Then in October of 2018, Strickler tugged a bit of skin near the scar—a simple action but one he wishes he could take back. The skin was attached to a nerve, and Strickler was left with a dime-sized painful open wound.

His family physician referred him to Dr. Ranzini. “I had sort of a perfect storm,” Strickler says. “I had diabetes and radiation on the foot, so there was no circulation. Without circulation, the wound could not get enough oxygen to heal.”

That perfect storm made Strickler a prime candidate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

A Sweet Recovery

Like Carroll, Strickler attended two-hour therapy sessions five days a week for eight weeks. “It’s a big commitment,” he says. “The really neat thing about it, though, is the relationships you form during that time. There are two hyperbaric chambers, so I had the same partner the whole time. I got to know Dr. Ranzini and the entire staff really well. They are knowledgeable, but they are also very nice people.”

Strickler’s wound shrank about 70%, and he’s had skin grafts to fill the hole where the scar was. Strickler’s right foot is better, although small knots remain, and sadly, his hands have started to show symptoms of Viking’s disease, a condition marked by thickening and tightening of the skin on the hands which causes the fingers to contract. But the next step in his journey involves shoes.

“Since this happened, I’ve only been able to wear sandals,” explains Strickler, who’s worn the same leather sandals since October 2018. Soon he will have special diabetic shoes with an insole that will accommodate the knots in his feet. “It’s been a difficult journey,” Strickler says, “but all good. I am where I am now because of this care.”

If you have a chronic wound, visit augustahealth.com/wound-healing-clinic to learn more about your treatment options, and call (833) AHC-HLTH to make an appointment.