A hyperbaric chamber patient watches television from inside the chamber as a nurse monitors the pressure at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A hyperbaric chamber patient watches television from inside the chamber as a nurse monitors the pressure at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

This little-known therapy is saving limbs and healing wounds

Steve Mataya was told he would lose his foot. Then he discovered hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Monroe.

MONROE — Steve Mataya was told he would lose his left foot.

He caught his leg on the metal steps leading up to his truck, and his diabetic condition kept the wound from healing. By the time he went to the doctor, infection had almost reached the bone.

At the time, eight years ago, Mataya’s vascular specialist and a surgeon told him the best option was amputation. But in passing, a nurse suggested Mataya look into hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

After a three-month round of treatments, the wound on Mataya’s foot healed.

About 60 percent of the patients who visit the center are diabetic, said Kayla King, a hyperbaric technician at EvergreenHealth Monroe. The disease affects circulation, making it difficult to recover from injuries.

The hospital’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center has been offering the therapy in east Snohomish County for 10 years. However, surgeon Jonathan Borjeson said many aren’t aware of the method’s effectiveness in treating radiation injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, wounds that won’t heal due to diabetes, and other ailments.

Since starting the treatment, Mataya, 59, has gone back to the center for several other wounds on his feet caused by neuropathy — a lack of feeling in the lower extremities associated with diabetes.

They all healed, he said as a nurse prepped him for an appointment in January.

Sometimes it hurts when a nurse prods at a sore on his foot, Mataya said as he pushed his camo trucker hat up on his forehead. Most often, he can’t feel anything.

During hyperbaric therapy, patients enter a cylindrical chamber that increases atmospheric pressure to 33 feet below sea level.

Pure oxygen is pumped into the chamber, and the added pressure drives the gas into the fluids of the body, including blood plasma. The process causes tiny new blood vessels to form, nurse Kristie Amsberry said.

A nurse adjusts the chamber pressurization at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A nurse adjusts the chamber pressurization at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The increased oxygen and blood flow provided by the chamber allows for better circulation, which helps wounds to heal, Amsberry said.

At 6-foot-7, Mataya just barely fits in the chamber with his feet pressed to the bottom. He’s enclosed for 90 minutes at a time.

The therapy is cumulative, so patients need to undergo the treatment five days a week for 60 visits — which works out to about three months, said King, who works with him as a technician.

For Mataya, his repeated need for the time-consuming procedure has cost him jobs at two truck-driving companies.

“The alternative is having wounds for years and years or losing a limb,” King said.

The treatment can cost around $2,000 per visit, but Mataya said Apple Health has covered it.

“They’ve had our back,” his wife Pam Mataya said.

With two chambers available, King said the clinic sees three to six patients per day for hyperbaric therapy.

Jonathan Borjeson tends to Steve Mataya’s foot sore at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jonathan Borjeson tends to Steve Mataya’s foot sore at EvergreenHealth’s Wound Care and Hyperbarics Center in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Due to his neuropathy, Mataya has to examine his shoes every day before he puts them on to check for pebbles and debris. He won’t feel a blister forming, and any wound can develop a limb-threatening infection within days because of his body’s inability to heal itself.

Despite his precautions, he gets sores that land him back in the wound healing center every so often.

The Matayas have gotten to know the other patients and all the doctors. They’ve even celebrated a few of the center’s receptionists who have been inspired to go back to school for hyperbaric therapy.

While the process isn’t foolproof, Borjeson said he sees a high success rate. About 93 percent of the center’s patients’ wounds are healed through a combination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other treatments. Less than 3 percent of patients still end up requiring an amputation.

Mataya continues to work as a truck driver. He can do everything but load his truck, and he said his employer is willing to work around his treatments. Reoccurring wounds likely will always be a challenge.

“But if we have to go to the doctor, we’d rather go here,” Pam Mataya said.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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