The human body has the remarkable ability to heal itself — in most of us. But for an ever-increasing number of people with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and circulatory disease, healing is a problem. Those diseases impair blood and lymph flow to the wound; blood and lymph carry oxygen and immune-system cells to the area to fight infection, remove dead tissue, and promote new cell growth.
As the number of people with diabetes skyrockets, and an aging population presents more cases of circulation problems, the need for wound care is jumping. Fortunately, medical science is meeting the challenge with new ways to treat chronic wounds. And Sharon Hospital in Connecticut (just across the border from Amenia, Dutchess County) has recently opened its new Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine to treat these patients, many of whom live in the Hudson Valley.
“Wound care is always changing and evolving,” says Program Director Letha Walters, R.N. It has to be. Each year, approximately five million Americans suffer from chronic wounds. About 1.5 million people develop diabetic ulcers; another 2.5 million have pressure wounds from sitting or lying in bed too long; one million have circulatory ulcers. Diabetics have a 15-times greater risk of amputation, caused mostly by infected wounds; approximately 60,000 diabetics undergo amputation each year.
The number of diabetes patients is now about eight percent of the population nationally, and nearly nine percent in this area, says Walters. “The need for wound care increases every year,” she says.
To meet that need, Sharon Hospital has created a state-of-the-art center on the main floor of its Women’s Center, which opened in 2008 and added 4,300 square feet of new space at the hospital. The Wound Care Center occupies 2,300 square feet and features three treatment rooms, a nurse’s station, a reception area, and a waiting area. A hyperbaric chamber room houses two hyperbaric chambers, the cornerstone of wound treatment.
When tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen than it usually receives to survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The air pressure is increased up to three times higher than normal. This enables the lungs to gather as much as three times more oxygen than if the patient was breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
The oxygen-rich blood circulates throughout the body, stimulating it to release substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing and fight infection. Wound care patients typically require anywhere from 10 to 30 treatments of 30 to 60 minutes each.
Besides using oxygen therapy, which is generally safe (complications are rare), there are new wound dressings that contain silver, which is a natural antimicrobial, to help prevent infections, says Walters. Medications are also used.
These treatments work. Studies have shown that wound care treatment reduces amputation rates significantly and shortens the length of hospital stays by 24 percent. Wounds heal faster (on average, in 21 days) and with more success (87 percent healing rate.)
The center is supervised by Medical Director Sara Case, M.D. Dr. Case, a surgeon, is also certified in the specialty of wound care, says hospital spokesperson Jill Groody Musselman. “Many surgeons do wound care, but it’s very rare to be a specialist,” Musselman says. “She has been seeing wound patients for many years, and her team will really enhance our scope of services to the community.”
For more information:
To learn more about the Wound Care Center, call 860-364-4515 or visit www.sharonhospital.com.