When I was diagnosed with a rare form of osteosarcoma in my right leg 28 years ago, not much was known about the disease. The standard treatment at the time was amputation, which I didn’t want to accept. My oncologist decided to try something new — extensive radiation to my entire leg. Fortunately for me, it worked! I was cancer free, but not out of the woods. I knew that radiation could have implications for me later in life. It could cause tissue damage and even other forms of cancer.
Sure enough, many years later, I started seeing the negative effects in my right foot. As a nurse, I’m on my feet all day long and was experiencing pain due to the tissue damage. In May of 2013, I underwent surgery to straighten the toes in my foot to make walking a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, the surgery caused a new problem — a wound that wouldn’t heal. After four weeks of no improvement, my primary care physician told me it was time to see a wound care specialist. Knowing that GBMC has a renowned Wound Care Center as well as a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) unit, I opted to go there to see Ziad Mirza, MD. I really didn’t know if my condition indicated HBOT, but I wanted to go to a center that had that capability just in case.
Within five minutes of meeting me, Dr. Mirza recognized my history of heavy radiation treatment and knew HBOT would be the most effective therapy for my wound. The staff immediately called my insurance company, took care of all the background work, and had me in the HBOT chamber the very same day.
Even though I have a clinical background, they fully explained everything to me in easy-to-understand terms. Dr. Mirza explained to me that I’d be placed inside the enclosed chamber and would breathe 100 percent oxygen at two to three times atmospheric pressure. It works by dissolving oxygen into the blood plasma, causing an increase in tissue oxygenation, stimulating healing of tissues, forming new blood vessels, controlling infections and regenerating new, healthy tissues. It is a best practice for the treatment of non-healing radiation-induced wounds, in addition to many other types.
I may be part of the medical world, but I was still a little nervous about the treatment. The thought of being enclosed inside a chamber was scary to me, and the staff recognized that. They helped to reassure me and ease my fears.I would never be left unattended while in the chamber — the technicians would be closely monitoring me the entire time. The chamber tops are also clear, so I was able to see outside the whole time and even watch TV or a DVD — although, sometimes I chose to simply take a nap!
The improvement in my wound was astounding, and very quick. Within a week, I saw a huge difference in the healing process and was in much less pain. After just 30 daily treatments, I was completely healed and discharged from the program even earlier than expected. I can now complete my entire shifts at work. I’m so fortunate that Dr. Mirza is so knowledgeable and experienced in his field. Had I not known that HBOT was an option, my wound may have never healed, and I may have lost part of my foot. I am forever grateful to Dr. Mirza and the entire staff of GBMC’s Wound Care Center and HBOT for their continuous compassion, bedside manner and incredible expertise. Thanks to them, I can say that I have been cancer-free for 28 years and still have both of my legs to show for it!