TRAVERSE CITY — Pure oxygen pumped into a tube-like chamber as Michael Dornoff reclined inside and watched the History Channel.
The Acme man suffers from ulcers on his legs related to an underlying cause called venous insufficiency. His fragile skin is prone to ulceration, and the sores caused by "any little friction" or bump take a long time to heal. Starting in July, Dornoff has undergone regular treatment at the Munson Medical Center Advanced Wound Center. The center opened in June and uses hyperbaric chambers to heal chronic wounds. The public is invited to a wound center open house today, Sept. 30, to learn more about the treatment and check out the facility.
Dornoff noticed improvement in his legs since beginning the treatment. "The wounds themselves have gotten smaller," he said. "One of the real encouraging things is that no new ones have started."
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to treat slow-to-heal diabetic wounds, injuries and compromised grafts and flaps, among other conditions. A patient must have a "chronic" wound — one that has not healed in 30 days of traditional treatments — before starting the therapy.
The treatment requires a substantial time commitment. Patients rest inside the chamber for 90 minutes to two hours per session, five days a week, for six weeks. Wounds are photographed weekly to check for evidence of healing tissue and to measure how much the wound is closing.
Munson's center has two chambers; each one holds a single patient. The see-through construction of the tank allows patients to view a TV mounted outside. The chamber is pressurized to the equivalent of 60 feet of sea water, said Dr. Bill Chung, one of the doctors who works with wound center patients.
Understanding of hyperbaric oxygen therapy can get muddled by its associations with the late and eccentric pop star Michael Jackson's reported use of a chamber and the use of the chambers by sports teams.
"It's not a magic pill. It's an adjunct to therapy," Chung said. "It is kind of like dispelling the myths — Michael Jackson — getting over that kind of stuff."
Diabetic patients have been able to avoid amputation for foot-related problems by undergoing the therapy, Chung said. Patients may be referred to the center by vascular and oral surgeons and other doctors who see chronic wounds.
Patients are evaluated before they are accepted for treatment.
At the end of a session last week, Dornoff's chamber was slowly brought back to normal atmospheric pressure.
"It's a little bit of discomfort as the pressure's changing," Dornoff said, after he exited the chamber. "A little bit of ear-popping, real mild discomfort."
The wound center, whose medical director is Dr. Matthew Smith, has space to add two more chambers. An open house is scheduled from 4-8 p.m. today, Sept. 30, at the center, located off of Cedar Run Road at 5085 Anna Drive, Suite C, in Traverse City.