Hyperbaric medicine can be a ‘game changer’ for many people, facilitating their healing, speeding their recovery, and providing what for many is a one-time opportunity to experience optimal outcomes after a diving accident, radiation injury, surgery involving skin flaps, and many more indications.
The hyperbaric nurses at the University of Miami are heralding the first ever Hyperbaric Nurses Day on April 3, 2018, a national effort to educate and raise awareness about the essential role they play.
“We’re the best kept secret in the hospital,” said Monica Perez, RN, director of the University of Miami Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Center. “So we thought this would be a good opportunity for us to show-and-tell, and at the same time highlight our hyperbaric nurses.”
Hyperbaric Nurses Day “is an acknowledgement of our specialty. And being a hyperbaric nurse is awesome. We get to heal patients,” said Angelina Meza-Suarez, RN, safety director of the UM hyperbaric center.
One of the more rewarding aspects “is we are able to see the difference in patients,” Perez added. The UM team of hyperbaric physicians and nurses treats dive patients with decompression sickness, often referred to as “the bends,” as well as 14 other indications sanctioned by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The nurses also help people with lower-extremity non-healing diabetic ulcers that meet official criteria. Hyperbaric therapy promotes healing by removing free radicals, optimizing blood flow and by fully oxygenating a wound.
“When people have a wound, we can put on all the bandages in the world, we can do a skin graft, we can provide the best technology, but if there is no blood flow in that wound, it is not going to heal,” Perez said.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also indicated to keep skin and other tissue viable after surgery, including procedures for transgender patients. “We are able to help these patients when their surgeries result in non-healing wounds,” Perez said. “It’s a real game changer.”
“It’s very satisfying to know we are able to help patients heal. We are part of their journey and a tool in the toolbox,” Perez added.
The official CMS indications for hyperbaric medicine also include treatment of osteoradionecrosis as an adjunct to conventional treatment, as well as soft tissue radionecrosis as an adjunct to conventional treatment.
“Hyperbaric treatment is the only antidote to radiation injury,” Meza-Suarez said.
By carefully screening candidates for hyperbaric 100% oxygen treatment and following the CMS official indications, UM offers therapy based on evidence-based medicine.
“We’re the only ones in South Florida staffed by RNs. Everyone else has techs, paramedics or other providers,” Perez said. “Only RNs can do a full assessment.”
The UM hyperbaric medicine program was on call after winning the bid to work with the construction company that built a major tunnel linking Watson Island to the Port of Miami.
“Their workers used an elevator going down more than 100 feet. Even though they were not in the water, they could still get ‘the bends,’ and we took care of some workers when they brought the elevator up too fast,” Perez said.
Hyperbaric medicine has a long history, initially discovered by surgeons wanting better outcomes in 1662.
The Hyperbaric Medicine Program at UM has grown since former U.S. Navy seal and current UM anesthesiologist Ronald Samson, M.D., brought bariatric medicine to the university back in 1996-97. Another UM provider, Robert E. Marx, D.D.S., discovered a protocol known all over the world as the Marx Protocol. In addition to Meza-Suarez, Perez and Manuel Moreno, RN, Dr. Manuel Garcia Frangie, Dr. Magaly Rodriguez and Dr. Abel Murillo treat patients with hyperbaric therapy. Dr. Robert Kirsner is the medical director.
“We’re a team,” Perez said.