Today, Mayo Clinic opened the wall of one of its hospitals and used a crane to slide in a huge, high-tech steel box designed to heal patients and foster medical discoveries. The box is a 3,800-cubic-foot, high-pressure hyperbaric system that contains three specialized therapy rooms.
The chamber will allow for up to 24 patients to be treated in an oxygen-rich environment at increased atmospheric pressures. The procedure will be used primarily to heal chronic wounds, hard-to-treat injuries often seen in patients with diabetes.
Built by Fink Engineering of Brisbane, Australia, the chamber is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Its rectangular shape makes for easier use and is intended to give patients the feeling they simply are in another type of treatment room in the hospital. Natural lighting, relaxing colors, climate control and entertainment systems will add to the effect. Treatment sessions, for both inpatients and outpatients, will average around 90 minutes.
“This marks the beginning of a new phase of both patient care and research in oxygen therapy at Mayo Clinic,” says Paul Claus, M.D., an internal medicine specialist and director of Mayo’s new Hyperbaric Medicine Program.
The hyperbaric vessel was shipped from a factory in Australia several weeks ago and transported by ocean freighter. It was unloaded in Los Angeles on July 13, and arrived in Rochester this morning, only hours before it was installed into a 6,000-square-foot area of Rochester Methodist Hospital’s Charlton North Building. As soon as it disappeared from view, technicians and staff began the long process of outfitting, connecting and testing the chamber so it will be ready for patients by late fall.
The Hyperbaric Medicine Program has a specially trained staff of physicians, nurses and technicians to conduct the treatments and provide evaluations. During non-patient hours, Mayo researchers will use the facility to study medical implications of air and space travel at altitudes up to 100,000 feet.
Mayo Clinic has a long tradition of altitude research dating back to the 1940s when Mayo investigators developed the in-flight pressure suit for the military and built and used one of the first G-force simulators to study gravitational forces of supersonic flight.
The hyperbaric facility is named after benefactors Leslie and Susan Gonda of Beverly Hills, Calif., in honor of their generous support.
Background on Hyperbaric Medicine
Hyperbaric pressure vessels (chambers) provide an “atmosphere of healing” by allowing patients to benefit from an oxygen-enriched environment under several levels of increased atmospheric pressure. The average 90-minute therapy session in the environment help some wounds that are not responding to conventional therapy start to heal. Patients selected for this treatment are often at risk for losing tissue or limbs due to vascular or cellular tissue deterioration, most often due to diabetes or trauma.
Current data indicate that over half of patients at risk of limb amputation due to non-healing wounds are healed long-term when treated in combination with hyperbaric oxygen.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also aid in saving tissue that otherwise might be lost due to:
Chronic bone infections
Skin graft complications
Therapeutic radiation injury
The hyperbaric chamber plays a primary role in treating severe carbon monoxide poisoning and remains the only primary treatment for air-gas embolisms and decompression sickness due to nitrogen bubbles experienced by commercial and recreational divers.