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Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center installs the country's second-largest hyperbaric chamber

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hospital will significantly expand its services, treating up to 24 patients at a time

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center's new hyperbaric chamber will triple the hospital's capacity to treat patients with hyperbaric oxygen therapy and improve its regional wound care services.
The 52-foot-long, 66-ton chamber, the second-largest in the U.S. and the largest in Wisconsin, will be able to treat up to 24 patients at one time.

The chamber was installed today after being lifted by a huge crane and placed into the basement of Aurora St. Luke's through a 1,100-square-foot hole.

Hyperbaric chambers are primarily used to help treat difficult wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, but also are used for carbon monoxide poisoning and a host of other medical conditions. During hyperbaric treatment, patients breathe 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The increased oxygen in the blood stimulates small blood vessel and skin growth and helps fight infection.

"This new chamber will allow us to continue to provide our patients with the most advanced, state-of-the-art technologies available in wound care," said Jeffrey A. Niezgoda, MD, medical director of Aurora's Centers for Comprehensive Wound Care and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Program. "Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center has always been a pioneer in the field of hyperbaric medicine. This new chamber will allow us to continue to attract patients from throughout the Midwest."

Hyperbaric treatment can literally save the lives and limbs of patients with wounds that are difficult to treat because of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and arterial vascular disease, Dr. Niezgoda said.

Jack Simanonok, MD, another hyperbaric physician in the Aurora program, said there is a growing need for hyperbaric therapy.

"The role of hyperbaric medicine is becoming increasingly important as the incidence of diabetes increases, the population ages and the number of chronic wounds exceeds six million yearly," Dr. Simanonok said. "There are currently 24 million diabetics in the U.S., approximately eight percent of the population, and these patients are at significant risk for complications related to diabetic foot disease. Obesity and tobacco use also impact the body's ability to heal and may contribute to the development of chronic wounds."

Monica Skarban, regional manager of wound care and hyperbaric medicine for Aurora Health Care, said: "Our program provides patients with a full range of wound care services, and we collaborate with experts throughout Aurora Health Care to provide the best, most complete care for our patients. We have access to multidisciplinary groups such as the Aurora Visiting Nurse Association, vascular services, physical therapists, the lymphodema clinic, nutritional medicine and pain management."

Mary O'Brien, chief administrative officer at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, said that great care was taken in the design of the new hyperbaric chamber to ensure a comfortable environment for patients. The chamber features natural lighting, relaxing colors, climate control, entertainment systems and even a restroom.
"The patient is at the center of everything we do at Aurora, so in designing the new chamber we sought input from patients," she explained. "Having access to this kind of technology is a very significant development for our patients."

The chamber was built in Queensland, Australia. It left Brisbane, Australia, on a ship on Feb. 22, arriving in Long Beach, Calif., on April 4. It then was loaded onto a trailer and trucked cross-country to Milwaukee.

The new chamber is expected to be fully operational in August. Until then, Aurora. St. Luke's patients will continue to use the twin chambers that were installed in 1965 and nicknamed Bonnie and Clyde. The Bonnie chamber can accommodate up to six patients, while the Clyde chamber can treat two patients at a time. After the new chamber is put into use, the old chambers will continue to be used for research.

Aurora is the only Wisconsin health system accredited by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. It is one of only 88 accredited nationwide, and was given accreditation "with distinction," which places it in the top 10 percent of accredited hyperbaric facilities in the U.S.

Aurora Health Care provides about 6,500 hyperbaric treatments a year and is the largest provider of hyperbaric care in Wisconsin. Aurora also offers hyperbaric care in West Allis, Hartford, Oshkosh and Green Bay.

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Contact: Sue Pierman (414-647-6432)

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