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NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson Virginia Heermann of rural Ottawa undergoes a hyperbaric treatment at Illinois Valley Community Hospital’s new Wound and Hyperbaric Center, located on Sixth Street across from the hospital’s emergency room entrance. One of Heermann’s two foot wounds has begun to heal since she began the two-hour sessions of exposure to extra oxygen. “It takes time, and you’ve got to hope that it gets better and heals,” Heermann said. “It isn’t something that happens overnight.”
Virginia Heermann of rural Ottawa wasn’t sure what to expect on her first visit in August to the new Wound and Hyperbaric Center of Illinois Valley Community Hospital, Peru, but her doctor had recommended she take advantage of the hyperbaric oxygen therapy available there. Heermann had been dealing with two diabetes-related wounds on her left foot since November 2012. Her doctor in Ottawa did tests and continually monitored her wounds for infection, but the care she received there was not quite doing the trick. “It kept it more or less under control, but didn’t get it healed,” Heermann said. She has now received more than 30 treatments in a hyperbaric chamber, which resembles an MRI chamber. Program director Terry Near said the chambers provide patients with air that is “super-saturated” with oxygen. “It helps them to create this environment in the body where the body heals better,” he said. “It’s really great.” Patients spend a total of 120 minutes inside a hyperbaric chamber at each session, Near said, during which time they have the option of watching a television set that is mounted to the outside of the tube. “It’s a perfect place,” Heermann laughed. “If you want, you can even catch up on a little snooze that you missed in the morning.” Dr. Thomas Curry, the center’s medical director, said hyperbaric treatments are new to the Illinois Valley, but not to the medical field. “The concept is not really anything new,” he said, citing Navy divers who researched the method to treat sicknesses derived from diving too deep. “They did all the studies and it expanded into wound care after that.” Treatment usually takes 20-30 sessions, Curry said. Prior to the opening of IVCH’s new facility in July, patients would have to travel 60 miles to find the nearest hyperbaric treatment center. “With the number of treatments that you need, that’s a lot of traveling,” Curry said, “especially when you’re older and not feeling well.” When a patient enters the hyperbaric chamber, oxygen gradually is added until the maximum level is reached. At the end of the session, the chamber is “decompressed,” Near said, and brought back to normal atmospheric pressure. “That part I sort of wondered about,” Heermann said, “but it wasn’t anything to be nerved up about.” She definitely notices the difference in pressure at the beginning and end of the sessions, she said, but the feeling doesn’t last very long. “You just lay in there and pretend you’re chewing gum,” she said. So far, the treatments seem to be working well for at least one of Heermann’s wounds. The first wound already has scabbed over. “The other one is slower to catch on — I think because it was more severe,” she said. “Eventually it will scab over and it heals from the bottom up.” Heermann said she would recommend wound patients at least look into the treatments, because they could be beneficial for them. If it gets worse, Heermann said, there aren’t very many options anymore. “I want to keep my foot,” she said. Curry said diabetes foot ulcers are the most common type of wound he sees in this area, along with a deep bone infection called osteomyelitis, which is caused by radiation treatments. More than 9,000 people in this area have diabetes, Near said. Of those, it is likely that 2,000 could benefit from this type of treatment. Hyperbaric treatment can also benefit a variety of wounds, including burns, surgical wounds; traumatic wounds; pressure ulcers and other chronic, non-healing wounds. The new center in Peru can treat up to 25 patients in one day. “It’s getting busy,” Curry said. “I think people are understanding the benefit we’re trying to give them.” Amy Flanery can be reached at (815) 220-6975 or email@example.com.
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