When Tom Scdoris had to have a toe amputated three years ago because of diabetes complications, he did research on hyperbaric oxygen therapy and looked into going to Omaha to have it done.
However, due to health problems that landed him in intensive care, he was never able to follow through.
So when his care providers at CHI St. Elizabeth suggested the treatment to him when he had another toe amputated earlier this year, the Lincoln man jumped at the chance.
After more than three dozen treatments, his wound is healing about twice as fast as it did the first time.
"That's how good that chamber is," said the 65-year-old Vietnam veteran.
St. Elizabeth installed two hyperbaric oxygen chambers in November in its Advanced Wound Care Center after deciding there was plenty of local demand for the treatment.
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"We were continuing to send too many local patients to other cities," said Dr. David Voigt, co-medical director of the Advanced Wound Care Center and Burn and Wound Center at St. Elizabeth.
The hospital initially installed two chambers, which are the first in Lincoln, but the demand was so great it added a third just a couple months later. And Voigt said there are plans to add a fourth.
The chambers allow patients to be immersed in an environment that is 100% pure oxygen at a pressure that is about three times the normal atmospheric pressure.
Voigt said the pressure is similar to what a person would experience while scuba diving, and he and the staff actually refer to treatment sessions as "diving."
The process speeds up wound healing and is particularly successful for people who have wounds caused by radiation treatment for cancer as well as those with chronic wounds from diabetes, Voigt said.
It also is used to treat people with carbon monoxide poisoning, and he said there is research showing it could be effective for treating closed head trauma.
The treatment takes a little more than two hours, and Voigt said most patients do it five days a week for six weeks straight.
Currently, there are about a dozen patients undergoing the treatment at St. Elizabeth.
The treatment can cause complications, including ear problems, vision changes, a drop in blood sugar and an increased risk of seizures, so Voigt said patients are rigorously screened, having to undergo blood tests, chest X-rays and electrocardiograms.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is considered a "last-resort" treatment, Voigt said, meaning most insurance companies will only cover it if patients have tried other treatments that have failed.
Scdoris is glad that he's gotten to use it this time around. He said that in addition to speeding up his healing, it's also caused him less pain.
"It's been a blessing," he said.
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