JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
The Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston uses oxygen therapy to treat patients who have a wide range of illnesses and injuries.
According to the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society, or UHMS, hyperbaric oxygen is an intervention in which an individual breathes nearly 100 percent oxygen while inside a hyperbaric chamber that is pressurized to greater than sea level pressure. The clinic at BAMC received a four-year reaccreditation with distinction from UHMS in April 2018.
A recent patient, retired Army Lt. Col. Charlotte Weiss, said she will be the clinic’s self-proclaimed “poster child” because of the miraculous results she experienced after receiving the treatment.
Weiss was injured during a deployment and has since required multiple surgeries to repair her wounds. After her most recent surgery, the area was not healing properly due to scar tissue from prior surgeries.
“There were complications with the tissue being oxygenated, and the tissue around the wound area was dying,” Weiss said. “The surgeon thought very quickly and knew the hyperbaric chamber would be the best course of treatment to have the best probable results.”
Initially, Weiss said, she was a little apprehensive of the chamber.
“It was a little scary at first, because you have to hold your breath and pop your ears,” she said. “After that it was very relaxing. I found the treatments were fun and something I looked forward to because the results seemed pretty immediate.”
The clinic, which is located next to the main entrance to the hospital, houses a multi-person hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which can accommodate up to six patients at one time. While in the chamber, patients can recline in a comfortable chair and watch TV or read. A single chamber is also available for an individual patient to receive the treatment.
“I had no idea this chamber could help with the results and they would be so immediate,” Weiss said. “My sense is that had I not been referred to the Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic as quickly as possible, I would be facing another surgery. I don’t have to have any more surgeries and I’m really grateful.”
Generally, a treatment plan consists of 90 minutes of hyperbaric oxygen daily for up to six weeks or more.
“I was pretty amazed after the third treatment,” Weiss said. “The doctors began to see a noticeable difference in the oxygenation of the skin. The dead skin was coming to life.”
Many patients come to the hyperbaric clinic to enhance the healing of chronic wounds or injuries from radiation therapy. Other illnesses and injuries that can be treated with oxygen therapy include air or gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, crush Injuries, arterial insufficiencies, severe anemia and acute thermal burns.
“Another unique aspect to the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic here is the clinic offers 24-hour emergency care and in-chamber critical care capabilities, which are only offered at a few centers within the United States,” said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joni Hodgson, Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic chief.
Hyperbaric chambers and hyperbaric oxygen therapy have been in use for centuries, but it wasn’t until the early 1930s that the military developed and tested hyperbaric oxygen for purposes specifically in the area of deep sea diving and later in aeronautics.
Hyperbaric medicine also has a rich history in San Antonio. The first Air Force Hyperbaric Medicine Center opened at the former Brooks Air Force Base in 1974. It later moved to Wilford Hall Medical Center and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in June 2017.
Weiss said the clinic staff were “very pleasant and professional.”
“The staff were wonderful and without a doubt I can say the treatments totally changed my life,” she said. “I’m happy with the results and the entire process.”
Providers can refer their patients to the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic.
“We usually get referrals from specialty clinics,” Hodgson said. “The referrals are reviewed by an Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine physician to see if hyperbarics would be a good treatment modality for the patient's condition. Then patients are called for an initial consultation to make sure that they are a good candidate for the hyperbaric oxygen treatments.”
“I am very grateful that I received this treatment,” Weiss said. “Once patients experience the positive results, they are going to be so grateful that they were referred to the Hyperbaric Medicine Clinic.”