New hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps healing for chronic wounds

Simulates being 33 feet below sea level

Diabetics and other patients suffering with chronic wounds are undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (Photo: KXAN TV)

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Every 30 seconds someone loses their leg because of complications with diabetes. Poor circulation and nerve damage make diabetics more vulnerable to infections, sores and ulcers. If they’re not treated properly, it can lead to amputation. And it’s not just diabetics, chronic wounds affect 6.5 million Americans. 

“Chronic wounds are a very big problem,” said Dr. Shannon Mitchel, Medical Director of Wound Care for Cornerstone Hospital. “It is difficult to treat wounds properly. Wounds that are open tend to get infected and that’s one reason why it requires a physician overseeing the effort.”

Now diabetics and other patients suffering are finding relief at the Outpatient Wound Care Center at Cornerstone Hospital in Round Rock. 

They’re undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), which simulates the atmospheric pressure of being 33 feet below sea level in a 100 percent oxygen environment. When patients breathe in the oxygen, it enhances the body’s natural healing process.

“It helps get oxygen to the level of the tissue, but it also stimulates something called angiogenesis, which is growing new blood vessels,” said Dr. Mitchel. “That is invaluable.”

Murel O’Neil is a diabetic patient who was able to keep his foot thanks to the treatment.

“I was a little bit apprehensive because I’m a little bit claustrophobic and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but after the first time it was great,” said O’Neil. He completed 40 treatments over the course of a few weeks.

“If you planted tomatoes or corn you wouldn’t expect it to pop up in five days, same is true of new blood vessels,” explained Dr. Mitchel.

There are 13 FDA Approved uses for HBOT, including carbon monoxide poisoning, anemia, flesh-eating bacteria, and radiation tissue damage for people who’ve undergone cancer treatments.

HBOT has been around for many years, but research is ongoing. Dr. Mitchel hopes with more data, insurance companies will expand the scope of who can get covered for the treatment. Dr. Mitchel says Medicare requirements got stricter last year.

“Medicare will cover it under certain criteria, and we will go to every length to make sure that we’ve met the criteria. For Medicare standards, the wound has to be of a certain depth, the wound has to have been present for at least a month with good care and good management of the blood sugar,” said Dr. Mitchel.

She says it’s just one piece of the continuum of care at the hospital, and they hope to offer the treatment to many more people in the future.

To see if you could benefit from the treatment, contact the clinic’s Admissions Coordinator at 512-671-1406.

The FDA warns claims for some diseases and conditions have not been established yet; like Alzheimer’s, brain injury, asthma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and stroke.

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