For the past few months, Lou Woods has arrived to work very early at East Georgia Regional Medical Center - 5:30 a.m.
She gets right to reviewing patient's charts in her position as Clinical Documentation Improve-ment Specialist for the hospital to help ensure all the information is accurate. While Woods loves her job helping patients and working closely with physicians at East Georgia, she has a different reason for getting to work before dawn.
Woods not only is an employee, she is a patient, too.
Specifically, she's a patient in the hospital's Comprehensive Wound Healing Center. Late in 2014, Woods underwent radiation treatment for cancer that created internal healing issues in her chest. Dr. John Martin, who is the Medical Director of the Wound Center, prescribed treatment inside a hyperbaric chamber to facilitate healing of the internal tissues.
So, Woods takes a break for two hours each day inside the hyperbaric chamber. She wants to make sure the daily treatment doesn't affect her full day of work, which is why she arrives at East Georgia at 5:30 a.m.
Treatment inside a hyperbaric chamber is one of the ways physicians at the Comprehensive Wound Care Center help patients recover from chronic wounds.
"A wound that goes 30 days without evidence of appropriate healing is considered chronic," said Martin, who has worked at Bulloch Memorial Hospital and East Georgia Regional Medical Center for 28 years.
Wound Center opens
East Georgia's Wound Care Center opened in 2006 to offer treatment of chronic wounds in a more centralized part of the hospital and from a staff dedicated to wound care.
"We offer our patients and their families the best care possible in a setting that makes them comfortable and confident they will get well," said Kim Fulmer, a registered nurse, who has been at East Georgia for the past 16 years.
Dr. Martin is a board certified general surgeon, and he has taken charge of the Wound Care Center. He has seen vast improvements in wound treatment.
"Twenty five years ago, people with chronic wounds would be seen in a doctor's office or some other non-clinical setting like their home," Martin said.
Most of the patients Martin sees in the Wound Care Center suffer from ulcers on the bottom of their feet, Gaiter ulcers from venous insufficiency on lower legs and internal injuries from radiation treatment. Also, many patients do have diabetes, which lessens sensation in extremities like the feet due to decreased blood flow.
"I've had some diabetic patients with pins, bottle caps and other items embedded in a foot and not know it because they can't feel it," Martin said. "Certainly, anyone with diabetes has more risk factors for chronic wounds than others."
According to Martin and Fulmer, treatment of a foot ulcer that won't heal includes taking the pressure off the infected area through the use of a wheelchair or crutches, regular cleansing along with removal of dead skin and tissue in the area of the ulcer, applying medication or dressings and managing a patient's diabetes, particularly glucose level.
East Georgia first began offering wound treatment in a hyperbaric chamber nine years ago, Martin said.
And, Martin admits, he initially wasn't a believer in hyperbaric healing.
"We were never taught anything about hyperbaric treatment in school," Martin said. "I thought it was ‘hocus pocus.' But I can tell you without question, it's not. The benefits of hyperbaric treatment are undeniable and have made a huge difference in positive outcomes for our patients."
The Wound Care Center operates two hyperbaric chambers that can treat up to 10 patients. Martin said hyperbaric therapy works by delivering 100 percent oxygen at a pressure that is the equivalent of being 30 feet underwater. The oxygen fully saturates the tissue of a person's body, which allows blood plasma to absorb more oxygen, helps supply more oxygen to the cells in the wound area and helps significantly reduce swelling.
Patients wear a hospital gown inside the chamber and bring a bottle of water. That's all.
"I watch a little TV, but mostly I just go to sleep," Woods said about her two hours in the chamber.
Woods has received approximately 100 daily treatments so far and Martin estimates she will undergo another 20 or 30 before her internal healing is complete.
Dr. Martin said a typical hyperbaric treatment schedule for patients with radiation-induced wounds is 90 to 120 days. For treatment of ulcers and similar wounds, treatment is about 20 days.
94% healing rate
Since East Georgia opened its Comprehensive Wound Care Center in 2006, it has treated approximately 800 patients per year and has a wound healing rate of 94 percent, which is equal to the national average, according to the National Center for Biotechnology.
Martin said the Center receives its patients from area physician and podiatrist referrals and patients already undergoing treatment in the hospital.
"We appreciate the confidence and trust area physicians put in us to help their patients," Martin said. We will diagnose a chronic wound, come up with an effective treatment plan and work to heal the wound. I'm confident that we are the best place in the area to help wound care patients."
The Comprehensive Wound Care Center is located inside East Georgia Regional Medical Center. You can reach the Center by calling (912) 486-1163 or by going online at www.comprehensivewoundheal ing.com/
This article is sponsored by East Georgia Regional Medical Center. You can reach the Medical Center by calling (912) 486-1000. East Georgia Regional Medical Center is directly or indirectly owned by a partnership that proudly includes physician owners, including certain members of the hospital's medical staff.