Hyperbaric medicine, also know as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, is the medical use of oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. The entire body is placed in a transparent, airtight chamber at increased atmospheric pressure. The patient is surrounded by and breathes 100 percent pure oxygen. The therapy was initially developed as a treatment for diving disorders involving bubbles of gas in the tissues, but it has been proven effective for several medical and surgical conditions, though many are still considered experimental.
The therapy has proven to be a godsend for a local resident.
Louine Bloom of Curwensville suffered a debilitating stroke in October 2008. She was flown from Clearfield by helicopter to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian where they found her carotid arteries were clogged. While her twin sister, Louise, was on her way to Pittsburgh, medical personnel inserted a stent in Louine's right artery, releasing the blood flow back to her brain. They also found a clot on her brain, which had to be removed.
The initial stroke, coupled with the clogged arteries and subsequent release of blood to the brain and the surgery to remove the clot resulted in paralysis of her left side and some brain damage, leaving her unable to speak or walk. She remained at UPMC intensive care for 14 days and then was moved to Montefiore Hospital until Dec. 1, when she was brought to Christ the King Manor Nursing Home in DuBois.
While there, she received some physical therapy. Louise never missed a day going to the home to be with her sister and helping as much as she could. On June 4, Louise made the decision to move Louine to Ridgeview Elder Care Rehabilitation Center in Curwensville where she continued to receive therapy.
Some improvement in response and mobility was evident, but Louise really wanted her sister home and was determined to care for her and give her therapy there. She had been with Louine every day in the nursing homes and believed it would be easier and better for Louine at their home. She was able to take Louine home on Aug. 29, and with the help of their niece Jenny and their friend Ernie Rowles, she was able to provide care as well as extensive therapy for her.
They began working to help Louine stand, started to move her limbs by hand and provided machines that help with movement. One such machine is a Freedomcycle, which can exercise both her arms and legs automatically. They also use a Back 2 Life machine, which stretches the spine, and a Chi Machine. Recently, Rowles built a standing frame for Louine in order to help strengthen her legs so she may someday be able to stand and even walk.
Louise had read about the hyperbaric oxygen therapy and wondered if it would help her sister. She debated for nearly a year, seeking information and someplace nearby where they would give the therapy for stroke victims.
In this area, the therapy is mainly used to heal trauma and burns. Finally, a friend directed her to the Hyperbaric Oxygenation Medical Center near Lancaster. After a couple of visits there, she decided to enroll Louine for treatments. In September 2010, they traveled to Lancaster with Charlotte Clark, one of Louine's caregivers, for hyperbaric therapy. They stayed there two weeks and Louine had therapy for two hours every weekday during that time. They came home for a weekend break and then went back for two more weeks in October.
Louise believes the therapy has helped a lot. Louine doesn't need to take as much diabetic or blood pressure medicine as before and she is more dexterous, she said, adding that she seems to be relearning things more quickly and it has helped with her memory.
Clark added that Louine is stronger. She also said that Louine had an infected wound on her shoulder and a sore on her arm and both are completely healed. "It is definitely a good improvement. There have been big changes all around," Clark said. "There are little improvements, but they add up. I think they should make it available to more people. If it is given right after a stroke, it may effect a cure. I'm very confident in it - it seems it woke her up." Both Louise and Clark noted that people in the Lancaster area testified they had seen great things happen to people who have had the treatments. They plan to return to Lancaster for additional therapy in the spring, and this time, Louise may also have the therapy.
The Bloom sisters are not strangers to hard times. On Halloween night in 1938, when they were less than 2 years old, the big house where they lived in New Millport with their parents, Mamie and Russell, and brother, Miles, caught on fire. Before the Curwensville Fire Department could get there, the house burned down. The flue was burning out and a spark had gotten under the roof.
Louise remembers Miles carried both of them from the house. The family lost everything that night. After the fire, they lived with their Aunt Jenny and Uncle Wade in Brockway for about six weeks. Then they lived in Clearfield for about two weeks before moving into an apartment above the City Drug Store in Curwensville. Following high school graduation, Louine and Louise attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania where they both majored in music education.
After graduating, Louine taught music in the Clearfield Area School District and Louise taught in the Punxsutawney Area School District until their retirements. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, they were active as organists and choir directors at the Curwensville United Methodist and Grace Lutheran churches. Louine also led Word of Life Bible Clubs for several years.
They lived in the Curwensville apartment with both their parents until their father died, and then with their mother until Nov. 17, 1987. Early that morning, someone set fire to the drug store. It burned along with the apartment above. They escaped with only the clothes on their backs and their cat, Amy. Friends and neighbors came to the rescue by providing temporary shelter in an apartment across the street and bringing clothing and other needed items to get them through those first difficult days. Soon, a house near the drug store was available for them to live in until they could find a permanent place to live. As it turned out, they were able to purchase that house, where they still reside.
Near the end of March 2006, Louise was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery in April. She said she was being tested in the same hospital where their brother was a patient. Miles died on April 19, near the time Louise was having a lumpectomy. She underwent radiation therapy for the cancer that fall. Then in October, she began to notice her heart wasn't functioning properly. Her doctor ordered a stress test, and she said she had not yet gotten to the treadmill when her heart stopped - twice. Medical personnel had to shock her seven times to get it started. She was taken by helicopter from Clearfield to DuBois Regional Medical Center where a pacemaker and defibrillator were installed.
In addition to the problems with her heart, she is also experiencing other medical problems, and for unknown reasons, is unable to walk without a walker. She is waiting for test results and hopes to begin therapy soon. Their lives were also filled with good things, such as opportunities to travel. They were able to visit the Holy Land, Hawaii, Scotland and other places.
Scotland was a special treat for Louine. In 10th grade, the students were given the opportunity to write to a pen pal in a foreign country. Louine began to write to Helen in Scotland and it developed into a close friendship that has lasted many years. During their travel opportunities, they were able to visit Helen in her homeland. Louise said, "Our faith in God has kept us going. People without faith - I don't know how they do it. Our trust in God will get us through the things to come."