Putting pressure on the healing process

Jane Shannon
Jane Shannon
Helen McCracken
Helen McCracken

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

KALIHI (KHNL) - When you think of hyperbaric chambers, you probably think of scuba divers with the bends. But nowadays, these chambers are being used for dozens of treatments that have nothing to do with the water, and everything to do with healing.

A trip to the oral surgeon was what brought Jane Shannon to the hyperbaric chamber for her first treatment.

"I had surgery, and had no need for pain medications, no swelling even with stitches all thru my gums. I was even able to sleep at night," said the Hawaii Kai resident.

But Shannon also discovered something else after her hour long sessions in the chambers.

Her hands weren't as numb as they used to be.

"I have multiple sclerosis, I noticed from the first treatment that my fingertips were getting more feeling"

Now she make hyperbaric treatment a regular part of her regimen to fight the effects of MS.

It is one of the approved uses of hyperbaric therapy but not one that is currently covered by health insurance.

So how does it work?

During treatment the chambers are pressurized down to what would be 15-45 feet underwater and pure oxygen is pumped in. That allows lots of oxygen to get to wounds and injured areas, speeding the healing process.

"It creates the perfect environment for the body to kick start its own healing process," said Helen McCracken, with the Hyperbaric Medicine Center.

Its made a difference for some stroke victims, children with autism, and diabetics with wounds on their extremities.

"Often times, this treatment, along with wound care can save limbs," added McCracken.

But this therapy has remained largely isolated from conventional medicine. And even a believer like Shannon isn't holding her breath for others to realize how hyperbaric treatment has made a difference in her life.

"They have no idea what it is, I would like to see people educated on what this type of therapy can do," said Shannon.

Patients typically will have between 20-40 hours of treatments, depending on the injury or condition.

Only about 14 of those conditions are currently covered by insurance.

For others, patients pay between $150-195 an hour for time in the hyperbaric chamber.