Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

December 11, 2013

Healing oxygen saves foot, redeems living

By Bill Piecuch
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — In 2011 Don Bowen was face-to-face with the doctor.  The mood was tense and solemn.  

“Well,” said the doctor hesitating momentarily as the patient displayed open wounds on both feet with infectious lesions that stubbornly defy treatment. “I think we must consider amputation.”

There was a brief moment of silence. Bowen remembers he was trembling and "scared stiff" during the session. This was a climatic moment that would dramatically alter his life. His reply was measured and direct: “You will not cut my foot off.”

Bowen served his country in the midst of the Vietnam conflict in the early 1960s. When discharged, he returned to home in Bay City, MI, where again he served – this time working nearly three decades with General Motors. During his tenure, he moved through the company ranks and retired as a supervisor in 1993  Soon he found his way to Lake Tansi and the Crossville area.

But during those years he noted sores appearing on both feet that just would not go away. 

“I thought it might be diabetes that was probably related to the handling toxic material during my time in the service,” he said, “But at first, it didn’t seem serious.”

Bowen’s medical condition that began as annoying grew to aggravating, slowly escalated to painful and finally to worrisome and wicked. By 2008, he had lost a big toe on his left foot. In 2010, the possibility of having his right foot amputated loomed.  By 2011 and following hospital stints in Nashville and Murfreesboro, his wound swelled about the size of a softball.

With traditional medicine unable to curb his persistent wounds, Bowen’s personal doctor recommended treatment that was a complete departure from antibiotics. The treatment was called “hyperbaric oxygenation.” 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is not well known treatment. It is preformed in Crossville as a unit of Cumberland Medical Center, at 124 Hayes St., the Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Center. It is a completely separate facility from the main hospital building and built four years ago. 

Hyper simply means "more" and "baric" means pressure. Increasing pressure of the oxygen we breathe signals DNA in the body cells to begin healing activities that the body fails to perform under normal conditions. The Wound Center has two single-person chambers which consists of an acrylic plastic tube about seven feet long which delivers oxygen to the patient.

As the patient lies on a stretcher that slides inside the chamber, it is gradually pressurized with pure oxygen. During the procedure a patient’s blood carries this oxygen throughout the body.  This stimulates the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

Patients are asked to relax and breathe normally. During treatment, pressures rise to twice or more than normal daily atmospheric pressure. Each session lasts about two hours. As the treatment concludes, a technician slowly depressurizes the chamber.

Hyperbaric oxygen remedy, while still in its infancy for public knowledge as mainstream therapy, has a well-established history for decompression sickness and hazards of scuba diving. Other (but not all) conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in blood vessels, and wounds that won't heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury – the malady that brought Don Bowen to the clinic. 

According to Tabitha Webb, office manager of the Wound Center, a wound failing to improve in two weeks should be treated at a specialized wound center. The healing of the wound may vary due to chronic or non-healing.

“Chronic or non-healing wounds are the result of various medical conditions,” she added, “and might not heal for a number of reasons. We can help.”

Bowen understands the validity of Webb’s statement.  “The treatment saved my foot and gave my life back to me,” he exclaims. “What more could I ask for?” he smiles.

To receive more information on Cumberland Medical Center’s Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Center, call 787-1620 or 888-496-3508.