By Jason A. Smith
As a result of two new arrivals at Henry County's leading medical facility, patients now have another avenue for healing from chronic wounds.
A pair of hyperbaric chambers are now fully operational at Henry Medical Center. They were installed Wednesday, as part of the hospital's Wound Healing Center.
The devices are designed to deliver pressurized oxygen to patients suffering from compromised blood circulation, bone infection, tissue damage caused by radiation, and several other conditions. The hospital purchased the $25,000 chambers earlier this year, from Florida-based Perry Baromedical.
Karen Benedikt works as the program director for the Wound Healing Center. She said hyperbaric therapy is "the gold standard" in treatment of wounds, as it has been proven effective more than 40 years. "When a patient breathes the oxygen [in the chamber], it is getting into their bloodstream and affecting their tissue," said Benedikt. "But with it being a pressurized situation, it's actually pressing the oxygen into the skin, through the tissue and muscle, to promote new growth and blood flow to the wound site."
During the procedure, patients are able to communicate by phone with a technician standing outside the transparent chamber. The level of pressure used in a given patient's treatment, said Benedikt, is dependent on that individual's diagnosis and the severity of his or her condition.
She said previous methods for treatment of wounds, including the use of whirlpools, have given way in recent years to hyperbaric therapy, because of the impact it has on healing.
The therapy is also used in the preparation and preservation of skin grafts. Benedikt said the method is instrumental in helping patients in need of grafts, to avoid more costly procedures. "In the past, [some] skin grafts failed because there's not enough oxygen getting to the wound site, and [patients] had to go in for a secondary skin graft."
Each treatment, which is performed on an outpatient basis, lasts approximately 2 1/2 hours, noted Benedikt. She added that the treatments must be administered five days a week for 20-60 sessions, for maximum effectiveness.
The procedure requires no sedation or medication for the patient, and does not impair daily activities. Prior to undergoing the procedure, she said, patients are given an opportunity to tour the center, followed by a counseling session about the therapy itself. "It looks scary and sounds scary, but we want them to be comfortable while they're in the chamber."
Currently, the chambers are the only ones of their kind being used in Henry. According to Benedikt, other hospitals have similar devices, however the ones at Henry Medical are able to provide treatment with greater levels of atmospheric pressure, thereby getting more oxygen to their patients.
Michelle Nunnally, public relations specialist for the hospital, said the chambers are the latest in a series of advancements at Henry Medical in recent years. These include the addition of the North Tower in 2007, and the expansion of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit earlier this year.
"We want to be able to provide as many services as we can for the residents of Henry County and the surrounding areas," she added. "We want them to be able to come to the local community hospital and receive the treatment they need, without having to be referred anywhere else."