WOODWARD, Okla. — For more than five years, 48-year-old Stacey Dunkin has been having trouble with health problems affecting her feet. After several complex problems and surgery on her feet, Dunkin became the first person to utilize the new Woodward AllianceHealth Hyperbaric Wound Care program.
For the first time in years, Dunkin has full mobility and can spend time doing the activities she loves most.
Dunkin's problems began about 10 years ago when her doctor diagnosed her with type II diabetes.
The first hint she might have problems began, she said, while pregnant with her son - who is now 17 - she had a condition called Gestation diabetes
Then problems with her feet began to develop. Duncan is an outdoor girl and loves to wear flip-flops. But one day, she noticed she had bothersome, large calluses on the balls of both her feet.
“I would go and get a pedicure about once a month and try to get that call\us off,” she said.
They wouldn't go away and eventually turned from calluses to sores.
What she didn’t know at the time was that she had neuropathy in her feet and legs, which causes a dangerous reduction of circulation, making the healing of any sore more difficult. Patients who have diabetes often struggle with neuropathy.
Because of the reduction of circulation, her condition worsened and in 2013, Dunkin had to have what is known as a mid-foot amputation on her left foot.
If that wasn’t bad enough, she began having sores on her right foot because of having to place so much pressure on the right foot to make up for the missing half of her left foot.
So, hoping for the magic of the hyperbaric chamber to help heal that sore, she made the two hour drive to St. Mary’s Hospital in Enid to their hyperbaric wound treatment center for help to heal the sore on her right foot. Woodward had not yet opened its wound care facility.
“I had a total of 45 dives in Enid,” she said.
A dive is one session in the hyperbaric chamber.
The benefits of the hyperbaric chamber are renowned because the chamber slightly changes the atmospheric pressure and provides pure oxygen to enter the blood, which helps to heal sores that are otherwise having a difficulty getting enough healthy, oxygen rich blood.
But the car trip there and back defeated the purpose of the treatment, because of how the foot had to hang while driving and she only got a small amount of benefit from the treatment.
And then in January of this year, Dunkin got really sick. No one knew why she was so sick and she was hospitalized. Dunkin, knowing that a sore had developed on her left foot, suspected it had something to do with her illness.
“I had a 105 temperature and then my blood pressure bottomed out,” Dunkin said.
Woodward surgeon Dr. Brenda Heunergardt took Dunkin to surgery and discovered she had a severe infection in the bone of her left foot called Osteomyelitis. This was her left foot, which had been partially amputated.
“And she also found a puss pocket and the reason I was so sick was that I was septic from that puss pocket,” Dunkin said.
So once again, with diabetes creating problems the whole way, Dunkin had to commit to treatment of the new surgical wound to her left foot, from the surgery that saved her life.
But this time, things would be different, because something exciting had happened in Woodward.
Just two months earlier, AllianceHealth Woodward had celebrated the opening of the new wound care facility that included two hyperbaric chambers. Dunkin would be the first patient to use the facility. And now, she is the first patient singing its praises.
In just 30 dives, the surgical wound to her foot healed completely and without incident.
Today, she says no one can even tell she is missing half her foot, she gets around so well. And the health of her right foot is also better.
“It helped so much,” she said. “And other people would benefit too, but your doctor has to prescribe the treatment for you to get it.”
The chambers are clear, and don’t cause as many problems for patients who have a fear of closed in spaces, said Wound Care Center Front Office Coordinator Teri Keeton.
To discover how best to talk to your doctor about ordering this kind of wound treatment, call the center at 580-254-8190. You do not have to have a referral to see someone in would care, said Keeton.
Van Horn writes for Woodward News, a CNHI News Service publication.