Chronic wounds present such unique challenges that most hospitals have established wound centers to treat them. St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton is no exception.

"We take an innovative multidisciplinary approach to healing," said Beverly Rauenzahn, Director of the Advanced Wound Care Center at St. Francis.

Each month, the center treats 70 to 80 patients. Most have diabetes, which is notorious for sometimes leading to chronic wounds. Other patients are treated for chronic wounds resulting from radiation treatment, which sometimes causes delayed healing, skin grafts and other causes.

A major component of the center is its Hyperbaric Center – the first of its kind in Mercer County – which opened in 2005. The center features two hyperbaric oxygen chambers that are used to treat the most difficult chronic wounds, such as those due to diabetes and vascular disease.

Once controversial, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) today is not only widely accepted but considered advanced treatment for chronic wounds. The patient lies in a chamber and breathes pure oxygen at increased atmospheric pressure that is comparable to being 33 to 45 feet under the sea.

In fact, HBOT was first successfully used in the 1930s to treat deep sea divers suffering from decompression disorders known as the bends. In 1965, HBOT was found to aid healing minors’ burns – suffered during a coal mine explosion – when the treatment was given to them for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dr. Kulin Oza, Director of the Advanced Wound Care Center, provides the medical direction for Hyperbolic Center and its team of multidisciplinary specialists, which includes physicians with advanced training in wound management and nurses skilled in chronic wound care.

"The Wound Healing Center provides HBOT treatment for about four to eight patients a day," Rauenzahn said. "We use the treatment is used in conjunction with a complete wound-healing care plan."

Once in the chamber, the patient is given 100 percent oxygen and the atmospheric pressure is slowly increased. Air naturally contains about 78 percent nitrogen and only about 21 percent oxygen.

"The pure oxygen enriches the blood vessels and helps promote healing," Rauenzahn explained.

The HBOT chamber is built with the patient’s comfort in mind. With a 34-inch circumference, the patient can comfortably move around. And through the clear acrylic side, the patient can watch movies or television on an overhead screen.

"The patient experiences absolutely no pain," Rauenzahn said. "They might only feel a little pressure in their ears, much like what you feel when you take off in an airplane."

A daily treatment of about two hours continues for a week or more, until the wound is sufficiently healed.

"St. Francis Medical Center is committed to providing regional areas of expertise and the Hyperbaric Center is another health care premier service we offer in Mercer County," said Jerry Jablonowski, St. Francis President and CEO. "All of our service areas of expertise bring the care and service to meet the needs of our community."

St. Francis Medical Center. 601 Hamilton Avenvue, Trenton. 609-599-5566. www.stfrancismedical.org

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