Patient Testimony: Betty Bohlander
How hyperbaric oxygen therapy restored her health, her quality of life,
and her faith in medicine
(Written for RestorixHealth)
“I am proof that this works, and now I’m an advocate.” By the time Betty Bohlander reached the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Wound Healing at St. Joseph’s Hospital, she had endured nearly a dozen surgeries, many progressive rounds of chemotherapy, daily antibiotic infusions, multiple expander rejections following a mastectomy, months of in-home wound care, and 65 doses of radiation treatment – the maximum allowance for an individual patient. Not only had she been told that she was out of treatment options, but she was exhausted in every way a person can be after battling breast cancer for many years. Unaware of the toll that her treatments would take on the rest of her body, she lived cancer free, but burdened by the side-effects it had imposed on her life.
“I went through the mastectomy, and it was almost immediately the next morning the problems started. I woke up from it and I had blisters on the left breast, the right breast just would not heal, and it was just awful.” Betty’s journey began in 2016. After years of surgeries and radiation treatments to treat a triple negative breast tumor, her doctor explained to her that she had radiation damage and radiation scars that had been exposed during surgery. Though improved radiation therapy techniques have increased treatment precision and lessened side-effects, up to 20% of patients can still experience an adverse impact on their quality of life. That’s because in addition to treating cancer, radiation therapy can also alter the tissue composition, which makes tissue thinner, harder and more brittle and therefore less likely to heal easily because it reduces the blood flow to the area. The side-effects from this can be numerous.
In Betty’s case, the severity of her treatments had restricted her body’s natural ability to heal after surgery, and had left her with a “violently red” half-moon shaped open wound under her right breast that wouldn’t close, even with extensive traditional treatments. With little faith that yet another surgery could help her condition, Betty was recommended for hyperbaric oxygen treatment to begin the healing process.
Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy utilizes oxygen under pressure to enhance the body’s ability to heal. Patients breathe 100% oxygen inside a chamber that is pressurized at 2-3 times greater than the normal atmospheric pressure. This high-pressure environment causes the blood to carry more oxygen to all parts of the body to repair damaged tissue. “I’m a little bit claustrophobic so I was afraid of what it would look like.” Betty explains. “Lauren showed me the size of the chamber, and I thought Oh, I can handle that, it’s not a tight space like an MRI.”
“When a person has a wound, it’s usually the visual manifestation of other things that are happening in someone’s body and in their life.” Says Lauren Montano, Clinical Program Director. “Our job is to try and figure out what’s going on and to try to help them turn that around. It’s about more than just a wound, it’s really about treating the whole patient.”
With an entire team of dedicated, passionate, and well-educated clinicians treating her with every advanced technique at their disposal, Betty began her schedule of 39 treatments to regain healthy skin tissue – and to restore her faith in the medical process. “I felt so much better as soon as I got there because I knew it was going to work somehow.” The results were almost immediate. “The tissue was growing crazily while I was in hyperbaric oxygen treatment, so I felt good about it. The wound closed up, and without any medications it is still growing new skin and improving. It’s kind of fabulous.”
After her treatment, Betty was released from the center and continues to enjoy life free of her previous wound complications. And of the team that she spent nearly every day with? “I love the nurses there. They were so sweet, they really were and I’m going to miss them.”