January 4, 2005
Despite needing help to heal damaged tissue and bone after radiation treatment for cancer in 2001, Jim O’Hara was reluctant to climb into a 7-foot coffinlike chamber.
The notion of hyperbaric oxygen therapy was more than O’Hara, who suffers from claustrophobia, could take.
O’Hara reconsidered after experiencing further physical problems and finding no relief. Last week, the Peoria man became one of the first patients to be treated in the Valley’s largest hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital. The 30-foot chamber resembling a submarine was delivered to the hospital on Oct. 28, and began serving patients Dec. 20.
O’Hara’s motivation: His mouth did not heal properly after a tooth extraction in April 2004. Antibiotics and bone-scraping surgery didn’t help, he said.
"About two or three weeks ago, my jaw became infected and swollen," O’Hara said. "My oral surgeon said, ‘You have to have hyperbaric oxygen therapy.’ "
Though O’Hara was nervous at his first treatment, he didn’t feel claustrophobic in the new chamber.
"I found it much less daunting than you would expect; it’s not bad at all," O’Hara said.
The therapy delivers pure oxygen to patients in a pressurized chamber. The therapy is used to treat chronic wounds, diabetes-related problems and help divers overcome nitrogen gasbubble obstructions known as "the bends."
Traditional hyperbaric chambers are small, constricting machines, said Greg Mann, director of Scottsdale Healthcare’s Wound Management program. "We’ve had a lot of patients that have anxiety issues in the small (single) chambers," and that is eliminated with the new chamber, he said.
The hospital invested $1.2 million in the new 12-patient chamber, which allows them to triple patient capacity from 12 to 36 patients per day. Previously the program had a waiting list for its two single chambers, Mann said.
On Monday morning, O’Hara and four other patients — all suffering bone and tissue damage from radiation — were treated in the chamber while seated in comfortable chairs with cup holders and personal television screens.
"You sit in . . . easy chairs, and you’re able to read and move somewhat," O’Hara said.