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Patients hail hyperbaric treatment

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Idaho State Journal

The Rev. Jim Jones and Heidi Williams have both been patients in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at Pocatello’s Idaho Doctors Hospital Healing Center and say the treatments have helped their brain injuries and turned their lives around.

For Jim Jones his traumatic brain injury began with explosions in Beirut while serving with the Navy in 1983. Heidi Williams survived after being thrown from a car on Interstate 15 and striking her head on a milepost marker when she was 5 years old.

Both Pocatellans say treatments in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the Idaho Doctors Hospital Healing Center have given them their lives back. “It’s been absolutely a miracle in my life,” Williams said.

Although Williams has no memory of the terrible accident that left a large scar across the top of her head, she knew something was wrong as she grew older. Williams had trouble with short-term memory and completing tasks. And the migraine headaches she experienced grew worse with each passing year.

“I thought I was losing my mind,” Williams said.

Her symptoms included driving somewhere and not remembering how she got to her destination, and it took her hours just to balance a checkbook. Williams said at one time she even considered checking herself in at State Hospital South in Blackfoot.

That’s when Williams heard about the pilot project at the Idaho Doctors Hospital Healing Center, owned and operated by Jeff Hampsten in partnership with Bingham Memorial Hospital. She signed up and has completed 40 treatments. In return, Williams’ migraines have nearly disappeared, and so has the anxiety and depression she has battled her entire life.

Jones, the pastor at Blazing Grace Church in Pocatello, said he had spent decades dealing with anger issues and pain. His initial brain trauma had been exacerbated by four accidents, two in an automobile and two on a motorcycle. He had been in and out of failed relationships with women, but had managed to stay married to his current wife, Sparky, for 11 years. But he was battling almost uncontrollable anger fits and fighting pain in his neck and back. Medical doctors had prescribed painkillers and Jones was taking 240 milligrams of morphine every day in addition to 80 milligrams of Oxycontin for “breakthrough pain.”

Jones first heard about hyperbaric treatments after receiving a veteran’s award at last year’s “An American Veteran Tribute” concert and fundraiser. He received information about a study on the treatment of traumatic brain injury with hyperbaric oxygen chambers and found out that Bingham Memorial’s Pocatello Healing Center had been one of 30 hospitals chosen to participate in trial studies.

“I thought, ‘What do I have to lose,’” Jones said.

Each hyperbaric treatment is called a dive. During Jones’ first dive, he said his neck popped so loudly that they stopped the procedure.

Hampsten said what happened to Jones is unusual, and that the treatments normally improve patients over time. “From that day, the pain in my neck was so much less that I weaned myself off of morphine and Oxycontin,” Jones said. This past week, Jones completed his 80th dive, and his condition has continued to improve.

“My memory is better, and I don’t blow at my wife the way I did,” Jones said. In a moment of emotion, the pastor added, “My wife said, ‘It’s good to have my husband back.’ It’s changed our life.” Both Jones and Williams said they are experiencing a life with more hope and less challenges. “Things are starting to make sense,” Williams said.

Hampsten said the curative powers of hyperbaric oxygen treatments have been accepted for some time in Great Britain, Europe and Russia as a viable treatment for a variety of brain damage issues. He said the oxygen enriched environment in a hyperbaric chamber helps the brain heal.

Hampsten said so many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be linked back to brain trauma. Anger, aggressive behavior and depression are merely symptoms of physiological damage. Hampsten points to a recent study conducted in Israel that concluded hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help post concussion damage years after the injury took place. The success stories of Jones and Williams just bolster Hampsten’s confidence in hyperbaric therapy which is already an accepted treatment for a variety of open wounds and sores common in diabetic patients. The Israeli study published in scientific journal, PLOS One, points to the expanded benefits of hyperbaric treatment.

“Clearly, new methods for brain repair should be examined in order to provide sustained relief to brain damage patients,” the introduction to that study states.

Money generated by tonight’s concert featuring country music artist Lee Greenwood at the Stephens Performing Arts Center will help other patients like Jones and Williams receive hyperbaric treatments at the Pocatello center. All of the proceeds from the concert will benefit local veterans by sponsoring treatment in the hyperbaric chamber at the Idaho Doctors Treatment Center, 1145 W. Alameda Road, in Pocatello.

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