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Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers: High-tech Wound Healing Comes to Mercy

Skinned knees and elbows are an everyday part of childhood.  These wounds heal fairly quickly with a little T.L.C. from Mom, some antiseptic cleaner and a Band-Aid.

But problematic wounds, which fail to heal after standard care, benefit from the latest treatment techniques at Mercy Medical Center's Wound Healing Center.      

"Our treatments are evidence-based and best practice driven, meaning a patient does not undergo any treatment -- or progress to a new level of treatment -- until the need is clearly indicated," says Molly Trosky, Nurse Manager of the Wound Healing Center, which is an outpatient service only.

Specially-trained wound physicians and nurses have an arsenal of treatments to combat wound infection, like antibiotic therapy, conventional wound dressings, surgery and physical therapy. Also available is Vacuum Assisted Closure (VAC), a device that facilitates healing from the inside out.

But the newest - and most exciting - wound care technology at Mercy is the hyperbaric oxygen chamber.  Mercy's Wound Healing Center recently added two hyperbaric oxygen chambers -- the only ones in the Cedar Rapids metro area.        

These leading-edge hyperbaric oxygen chambers surround the patient with 100 percent oxygen at above-normal atmospheric pressure.  This increases the amount of oxygen in the patient's blood and, in the case of wounds, allows red blood cells to pass more easily though the plasma into the wound to heal it from the inside out.

 "Simply put, oxygen is food for your cells," explains Penny Glanz, Service Line Administrator for Surgical Services at Mercy. Glanz oversees the Wound Healing and Treatment Centers.

Approximately five million Americans suffer from chronic open sores that can become seriously infected, gangrenous and, in some cases, require amputation. Most complications are a result of limited blood flow in the wound area, which prevents healing. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments increase circulation and encourage growth of healthy tissue.

"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers the possibility of healing chronic wounds that have, in the past, been unresponsive to more traditional therapy.  We are very optimistic about the potential benefits to patients from this technology", says Jeffrey Clark, MD, Linn County Anesthesiologists, PC, and medical director of Mercy's Wound Healing Center.

Under Dr. Clark's leadership, a dynamic team of area physicians have joined forces to ensure monitoring by a medical professional.    

"The center's doctors and clinical staff are skilled in the latest therapeutic methods in wound management and stay abreast of cutting-edge information through continuous training," says Glanz. "Patients are treated with state of the art technology, from having their progress charted through digital photographs to our new hyperbaric treatments."

Each hyperbaric chamber is approximately the same size as a tanning bed. Relaxing on a bed encased within a large see-though plastic shell, patients can watch movies on TVs and DVD players mounted above the chamber while hearing the movies and conversing with others outside the chamber through a speaker system.

Unlike much-larger chambers where as many as six patients sit alongside each other wearing oxygen hoods, these chambers offer individual privacy and comfort. Patients receive daily treatment for 20-40 days, depending upon the type of wound and rate of healing.

Types of wounds frequently requiring additional care include: diabetic skin sores, pressure sores, radiation necrosis, vessel disease wounds, surgery incisions, spinal injury wounds and chemical wounds.