By now you may be familiar with the story of Eden Carlson, the two-year-old who was found last year face down in the family swimming pool, barely clinging to life. Rushed to Arkansas Children's Hospital, she spent nearly two hours without a heartbeat and it would take constant CPR at both the house and the emergency room to get a return of circulation. Initial hospital tests showed she had suffered severe brain damage.
As chronicled in a report published in the July issue of the journal Medical Gas Research, over the next two months, Eden progressively lost muscle control as well as her ability to speak, walk and properly react to commands. Unresponsive to all traditional approaches, at the two-month mark, hyperbaric oxygen therapy was recommended and Dr. Paul Harch, Clinical Professor and Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine was brought in.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a form of therapy that I am intimately familiar with. It was instrumental in treating my wife, Gena, during her recovery from gadolinium poisoning. The therapy exposes a patient to pure oxygen within the confines of a carefully controlled pressurized chamber.
Because hyperbaric oxygen therapy was not available at Arkansas Children's Hospital, Dr. Harch began a bridging treatment to prevent permanent tissue degeneration until he could get Eden to a hyperbaric treatment center. Fifty-five days after her near-drowning, Dr. Harch began by giving her oxygen at the same air pressure as air at sea level for 45 minutes twice a day. After these treatments, Eden became more alert and started to speak and even laugh again, according to the report. Then, 78 days after her near-drowning, the doctors gave Eden oxygen therapy in a pressurized chamber. She would ultimately have 40 sessions, lasting 45 minutes each, spread over five days a week. Eden's mother reported that by the tenth round, her child appeared to be "near normal."
"She was able to walk again," Dr. Harch tells CBS News. "Her language development accelerated and ended up improving to the point that it was better than it had been before the accident."
Dr. Harch goes on to explain that every time you experience hyperbaric oxygen therapy you are manipulating gene expression in a beneficial way, inhibiting cell death and inflammation while promoting tissue growth and repair. He has also stressed that his report does not claim to "resurrect" brain cells with oxygen treatments, as some critics have implied, but rather, he says that the oxygen treatments led to the growth of brain tissue, likely because the oxygen stimulated the expression of certain genes.
The story of little Eden Carlson is now being hailed as one of the first such confirmed cases of brain damage being reversed using this alternative treatment. But there are other successes in the field to report.
Take the case of 56-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran Fritz Kruger. A cancer patient, Kruger had his prostate removed in 2012. This was followed by extensive radiation treatments. Following the treatments, he was showing no signs of cancer, but the radiation had taken a toll on his body, causing painful after effects. "I had blood in my urine," Kruger explains in a Mayo Clinic report. "There was so much scar tissue that they couldn't find the opening from my kidneys into my bladder."
Kruger's Veteran Administration doctor recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy which led him to the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Dr. James Banich, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who also works with wound care and hyperbaric medicine.
"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is very well-documented as an effective treatment for radiation injury," says Dr. Banich. "Better oxygen delivery allows for better wound healing and the ability to fight infection."
Throughout the course of Kruger's 30-day treatment he continued to improve. His symptoms eventually went away and have not returned.
In the Mayo Clinic report, Dr. Banich notes that hyperbaric oxygen therapy also is effective for diabetic patients who have wounds on their feet that will not heal. Researchers at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus are now in the midst of research and clinical trials to explore the benefits of the therapy for other types of wounds.
There are many other stories that can be told of the benefits of hyperbaric medicine as a viable, low risk form of alternative medicine. You just don't hear about them because the practice remains relatively small, underfunded and underreported.
At least some doctors and hospitals are beginning to see the value of this form of treatment. An estimated 1,300 U.S. hospitals have hyperbaric facilities; triple the number of medical facilities offering the service in 2002. Yet earlier this year, the Federal Drug Administration saw the need to issue a warning to consumers that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is being promoted as a treatment for many conditions for which the federal agency has not approved its use. Among them PTSD, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes — diseases that remain not fully understood, or in some instances even curable; situations where such a low risk alternative treatment as hyperbaric oxygen poses little risk.
Meanwhile, military veterans who've returned from deployment with a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Traumatic Stress are left with no current treatment except pharmaceutical medication as the Veterans Administration continues to question the science behind Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
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