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Wound Care Center patient Elmer Safrit asks to be shown eating, which he can do once again after successful HBO treatments at Dosher.
HBO treatments a life saver


90-year-old Elmer Safrit of Shallotte is enjoying a 100 percent improvement to his quality of life thanks to 40 hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) treatments at Dosher's national-award-winning Wound Care Center.

"I feel alive again," Elmer says, after suffering a near collapse of his jaw as a result of radiation treatments while battling cancer.

"I like corn on the cob, it's a miracle I can even eat that again. I'm surprised and quite happy. I can eat just about anything I want now," he says.

The condition Elmer had-fairly common among cancer patients-is called osteoradionecrosis, or bone damage due to radiation. Elmer's osteoradionecrosis became so badly infected it ruptured his eardrum. He was in constant pain and couldn't chew or swallow food.

"He had one of the worst cases I've seen. He couldn't eat anything unless it had run through a blender. And then after his first 25 treatments, he told us as he had grilled a steak and eaten it," Wound Care Director and certified hyperbaric RN John Stone says.

"A lot of friends have asked me about it and the nurses were all pleased that it worked so well," Elmer says.

No needles, no tubes. Patients are simply rolled into the airtight HBO chamber on a stretcher that Stone describes as similar in size to a telephone booth on its side. Patients lie for two hours per session as highly concentrated levels of oxygen are pumped into the chamber.

"It's the equivalent to scuba diving down to 40 feet depth and breathing oxygen and raising levels of oxygen 20 times normal," Stone explains.

HBO treatments "hyper-oxygenate" the body to speed healing. The treatments work on all types of wounds, including crush wounds needing blood to flow through the bone again or diabetic wounds and ulcers. The most common HBO candidates are osteoradionecrosis patients like Elmer.

"It's like flipping a switch. All of a sudden the body can start to heal, growing new blood vessels, bone cells and actually growing new bone. We can restore the blood flow to that site to about 85 percent of what it was before radiation," Stone says. "It's pretty amazing what hyperbarics can do for this type of condition."

HBO has successfully treated former breast cancer patients who had their chests radiated to rid the cancer, but were left with unhealed chest wounds. HBO also works well for stomach cancer patients whose bladders were affected by radiation treatments, causing them terrible pain and blood in their urine.

"There aren't too many scenarios in health care where people come in with chronic pain and 40 treatments later they are all better and out the door. It's the best part of my job," Stone says.

Dosher's Wound Care Center was named a "Center of Excellence" by leading U.S. wound care authority Healogics for delivering a "heal rate" of 95 percent or higher three years running, due in large part to its two HBO chambers.

Elmer's ear, nose and throat physician says the HBO treatments saved his life.

"When I initially saw Mr. Safrit, his condition was quite serious. I began to see improvement soon after he began the hyperbaric treatments, and after completion of his treatments, there has been remarkable improvement, Otolaryngologist Robert Poe, MD, says.

"I would highly recommend these treatments. If your doctor says that's what you need, try it," Elmer says.

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