Hyperbaric oxygen therapy back in Alaska at Mat-Su Regional Hospital unit

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Last October, Mat-Su Regional Medical Center welcomed two new hyperbaric oxygen chambers to its wound care unit.

So what exactly is oxygen therapy?

Acrylic tubes feed patients a steady stream of 100% pure oxygen while maintaining a pressure that affects the body in a similar manner as scuba diving. It might sound a little odd, but the doctors running the new unit say that this process boosts the body's ability to heal.

The conditions inside of the tube boost the levels of oxygen in both red blood cells and plasma, promoting a quicker healing time for wounds.

The treatment is particularly helpful for injured diabetics or individuals who have undergone radiation therapy in the past. Most patients who elect to undergo oxygen therapy have to commit to attending five days a week for 30 to 40 sessions.

Due to the combustible nature of oxygen, there are several rules and procedure in place to keep patients in a safe and contained environment. The process may appear intimidating at first, but Ray Barret, director of safety at Mat-Su Regional, says it usually ends up being a relaxing experience for patients.

"Almost every patient, they have a little bit of anxiety before they start treatment," Barret said. "But after the first treatment, they giggle and wonder why they had any problems in the first place."

The hyperbaric chambers have already proven useful for Alaskans, drawing in between six and eight patients every day from around the state who previously would have had to fly to Seattle for treatment.

"It saves them from having to go out of state," said Dr. Rachel Cuevas. "It's not only a big financial cost but being away from your family and all, so it's nice to have it here."

The new chambers are particularly useful for treating frostbite and have helped to save digits of one severe frostbite victim.

"Rather than losing an entire toe or multiple toes or half of their foot, they actually don't lose anything," Cuevas said.

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