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Fritz Kruger of Hayward, Wisconsin, wondered how breathing pure oxygen while enclosed in a pressurized tube could heal his body. Kruger, 56, suffered from side effects of radiation treatments for prostate cancer when referred for hyperbaric oxygen therapy in fall 2016.
Kruger, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served from 1986 to 1995, including Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, was being treated at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System. He had his prostate removed in 2012, followed by radiation treatments. As of August 2016, Kruger was showing no more signs of cancer, but the radiation had taken a toll on his body.
“I had blood in my urine,” says Kruger, who also was feeling the painful effects of passing scar tissue. “There was so much scar tissue that they couldn’t find the opening from my kidneys into my bladder.”
Kruger’s VA doctor recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A search of hyperbaric facilities within reach of Kruger’s home led him to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There, Kruger met with James Banich, M.D., Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, who is a consultant in wound care and hyperbaric medicine. Dr. Banich says Kruger was a good match for the treatment.
“He had radiation-induced cystitis, which is a bladder inflammation that would bleed and not heal,” Dr. Banich says. “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is very well-documented as an effective treatment for radiation injury.”
Better Wound Healing
The treatment involves lying in a pressurized tube for about 2 ½ hours, breathing pure oxygen. Each treatment, called a dive, because the pressurization process feels like going about 30 feet under water or descending during an airplane flight. The pressure helps the body deliver more oxygen through the blood.
“Better oxygen delivery allows for better wound healing and the ability to fight infection,” Dr. Banich says.
Kruger thought being enclosed in the hyperbaric chamber might make him feel claustrophobic.
“I thought it was going to be like an aluminum or steel chamber with a little porthole to look out of,” Kruger says. However, the chamber is clear and fairly roomy inside. “Being able to see all the way around, both sides and up, put me at ease,” Kruger says. “I was comfortable and relaxed enough to fall asleep.”
Those two-hour naps turned out to be a blessing to Kruger, who, as the sole wage earner in his house, continued working throughout the course of his 30-day treatment, driving two hours each way, five days per week. Within a couple weeks, Kruger says he was starting to feel much better.
“I was amazed at how I was getting better as the treatment went on,” Kruger says. He says his symptoms went away and have not returned.
Dr. Banich says hyperbaric oxygen therapy also is effective for diabetic patients who have wounds on their feet that will not heal. Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, Minnesota, continues to research and conduct trials for other types of wounds.
Kruger says all the Mayo Clinic Health System staff were fantastic and put him at ease throughout his experience. He says you can’t argue with the result.
“I couldn’t ask to feel any better,” Kruger says.