Oxygen Therapy Helps Diabetes Complications; It Can Be an Alternative to Amputations When People Get Cuts That Won't Heal
Fitzroy, Maggie, The Florida Times Union
Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY
When most people get small cuts or blisters on their feet, it's no cause for alarm.
Not so for Ruth Zielinski of Jacksonville Beach, who has Type 1 diabetes. Every day for 30 years, ever since she learned she had the disease, she's been checking her feet.
Diabetes causes poor blood circulation and nerve-damage numbness, and she knew she wouldn't be able to feel even a small cut, which wouldn't heal without aggressive medical treatment.
Despite her vigilance, she developed a blister on her left foot a year ago that didn't heal. She ended up in the hospital with bone infections, and despite surgery and aggressive antibiotics, it was still not healing.
Situations like that often lead to amputations for diabetics.
But Zielinkski's doctor prescribed "hyperbaric" therapy at Baptist Medical Center-Beaches that required her to lie in a sealed high air pressure chamber filled with pure oxygen for 90 minutes at a time. Over 30 days, as she watched movies on a screen over her feet, her body healed itself from the inside out.
"With decreased circulation, you need to have your blood supersaturated with oxygen," said David Ross, medical director of The Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine in the Wilson/Epstein Center on Roberts Drive.
Cases like Zielinkski's are "most gratifying" to treat with hyperbaric therapy "because it works so universally," Ross said. The therapy also works with a 90 percent success rate for other types of wounds that can't heal with other types of treatment, such as caused by radiation tissue damage, he said.
The problem is that not many people know about the therapy, which has been in existence for 40 years, program manager Aaron Cooper said. When a patient medically qualifies, it is almost always paid for by Medicare or other health insurance. But the two "mono place" chambers at Baptist Beaches are the only ones in the Jacksonville area, Cooper said. There is a multi-person chamber at the downtown Jacksonville Baptist Medical Center, but the next closest are in New Smyrna Beach, Brunswick, Ga., and Gainesville.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and the number of people who are developing the disease is rapidly increasing, Cooper said. The American Diabetes Association predicts that by 2040, one in three people will develop the disease, often caused by unhealthy eating habits and obesity.
The death rate from diabetes is much higher in Duval County than other large counties in Florida, a trend for the past 15 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hyperbaric therapy works within 18 to 20 treatments, and prevents amputation, Ross said.
"If you end up with an amputation, you have a significantly high risk of another amputation and a much higher risk of death. …