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Hypberbaric chamber speeds healing

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Shirley Anderson feels like she's ready to graduate.

No, not from school. The Sioux City woman is graduating from six months of daily sessions, spent inside the hyperbaric chamber at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City's Comprehensive Wound Healing Center.

"This is a momentous occasion," Anderson said, lightheartedly, following her final treatment. "I should have brought cupcakes and party hats."

Anderson may be feeling fine now but, in December, her mood was anything but festive. Injuring her right foot, Anderson said her leg soon became infected. The infection left 12 deep wounds. "If I didn't get help right away," the Bruening Eye Specialists employee remembered, "the doctors thought they'd have to amputate."

A medical professional for more than 30 years, Anderson researched hyperbaric oxygen when it came to healing chronic wounds for diabetics, like herself.

"You better believe I was on the Internet checking out both the pro's and the con's," the sixtysomething Anderson admitted. According to the Wound Center's medical director Paul Johnson, hyperbaric oxygen chambers have also proven effective for people suffering chronic wounds as a result of lower extremity arterial disease and pressure ulcers.

"Research shows that hyperbaric oxygen treatment can be beneficial for the treatment of such chronic wounds," Johnson said. And for two hours a day, five days a week, Anderson received treatment inside the one-ton Sechrist 3200 oxygen chamber. Although Mercy Medical Center is the only hospital in the area currently offering such treatments, hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been around for hundreds of years as a way to treat divers with the "bends."

"It's only been in past 10-15 years that they've been used to treat certain wounds," Johnson noted. Referring back to its nautical roots, Anderson said she's experienced 90 individual "dives" inside the cylindrical hyperbaric chamber.

Normally, a person breathes air that contains just 21 percent oxygen. Inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, a person breathes 100 percent oxygen, which is a level higher than atmospheric pressure. This super blast of oxygen dissolves faster into the liquid portion of your blood. With this increased blood carrying capabilities being delivered to all tissues, the body's response to infection is increased and so is its ability to heal wounds.

With a combination of time spent in the hyperbaric chamber and more traditional wound care such as rehab, Anderson's 12 deep wounds have been reduced to the two that are rapidly healing on her leg. "I know how close I came to losing a foot," Anderson said with a relieved sigh and a spring in her step. "In fact, I never thought I'd be walking on my own two feet." Yet she still doesn't have the cupcakes nor the party hats she wanted to mark her graduation from Mercy's Comprehensive Wound Healing Center. "It doesn't matter," Anderson said with a wave of her hand. "Now, I can march in my own parade."

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