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How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Saved My Feet

By W. Mamie Johnson

According to research conducted by American Diabetes

W. Mamie Johnson

W. Mamie Johnson

Association, kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. A large portion of African-American and Hispanic Americans are impacted by diabetes and uncontrolled high blood pressure. These two health conditions are the primary causes of kidney disease and kidney failure.

I was a successful training development specialist, and traveled throughout the United States providing computer-based training to personnel and disbursing clerks for selected naval bases across the country. To me, this was a “dream job,” because it gave me the opportunity to travel and get paid. My career was very active: on-the-go schedule, airplane flights, team meetings and motivational speaking engagements to young people as well as adults.

In 1995, I developed type II diabetes; however, I worked and maintained the same schedule as though I was a completely healthy individual.  I changed my diet and took medications and visited my doctors every six month. I thought to myself, diabetes is an easy challenge to manage.

Discovery of Kidney Failure

Early in 2007, I began to feel very badly. I was on sick leave for about a week, and my primary care doctor arranged an appointment with my current nephrologist. During my first consultation, I learned I was in acute kidney failure. The news was a blow to my emotional well-being.

After I stayed in the hospital for five days, the doctor worked diligently to lower my blood pressure, blood sugar level and get my acute kidney failure under control. As my hemodialysis (kidney dialysis) progressed, I had to get a better access fistula (surgically made passage between two hollow or tubular organs), so my treatments would reflect better blood cleaning. Healing from the fistula operations was slow. Additionally, I was battling an infection on my feet caused by diabetes.

I was referred to the Wound and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Center at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. HBOT is a treatment that increases the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood. This increase of oxygen flows easily to the plasm to promote healing to slow-healing and open wounds. I participated in HBOT therapy for 30 consecutive days, 3 1/2 hours per day. It feels like being inside a glass casket but it didn’t bother me. They had a television outside the chamber you could watch, so I focused on that. The timewent by pretty fast and it’s very relaxing. At the end of my therapy, all my wounds had healed completely.

Other FDA-approved treatment indications for HBOTs include diabetic ulcers, air or gas embolisms, burns, exceptional blood loss, anemia and carbon monoxide poisoning.

The diabetic ulcers on my feet were treated by doctors and nurses with specialized training in wound-care healing. Their techniques are aggressive, with the focus on healing, not amputation. Debridement is a technique used by wound-care professionals. Debridement involves removing dead tissue from wounds, to allow new tissue to grow. The most appealing aspect of wound centers and HBOT therapies is that the health care professionals do not consider amputation an option.  In my case, these therapies (1) enhanced my hemodialysis treatment; (2) made me able to tolerate hemodialysis better because my wounds were healed and (3) freed my mind of any additional amputations.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Wound-Care Therapy are not widely known throughout the African-American community as treatment options. Hopefully, my story will inform and enlighten you on the treatment value. Consult your doctor for additional information.

Since the completion of these treatments, I’m able to resume a limited schedule of speaking, participating in family gatherings, driving to dialysis and grocery shopping. Since I’ve been feeling better, I take more care in my personal appearance, and my outlook on life is more positive.

We all have the choice of getting on with the business of life, no matter what health challenges we face. By having a positive attitude, when walking the hard road, we become brave soldiers on the battlefield.

W. Mamie Johnson, 69, lives in Knoxville, TN.

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