Hyperbaric medicine celebrates 10 years
Dr. Lo talks with a colleague during the event.
The hyperbaric medicine center at Loma Linda University recently celebrated its first 10 years of operation under the innovative leadership of Takkin Lo, MD, with an open house.
The event, held on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, showcased the center’s state-of-the-art technology, highlighted its remarkable accomplishments, and pointed to the future of hyperbaric medicine in the Inland Empire.
When the center officially opened in November 1997, no one dreamed it would become a world-class facility offering more than 3,000 patient treatments per year. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was in its adolescence in those days, and only a few envisioned the exponential growth it currently enjoys. Fortunately for Loma Linda, Dr. Lo was one of the few.
The field of high-pressure medicine began in the 1950s when a group of Dutch vascular and cardiothoracic surgeons theorized that oxygen, under very high pressure, might accelerate the healing process for surgical patients.
As they tested their hypothesis, they discovered that patients with ischemic tissues not only enjoyed a significant decrease in morbidity and mortality rates with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, they also benefited unexpectedly from effects normally associated with medications.
But since the patients in the study weren’t taking any medications, researchers knew they had stumbled upon a medical breakthrough. Subsequent studies and thousands of clinical applications have validated their expectations many times over.
Takkin Lo, MD, director of the hyperbaric medicine service at Loma Linda University Medical Center, celebrates his accomplishments with colleagues, friends, and representatives of OneLegacy after that organization honored him at a recent meeting at the Mission Inn in Riverside. OneLegacy is a non-profit, federally designated transplant donor network.
Lo conducts a tour of the hyperbaric medicine center, he notes that the original hyperbaric center was opened at LLUMC in 1981 with one hyperbaric oxygen chamber in room 9106. When he took over the department in 1992, he made what seemed like a brash promise to Medical Center administration: “Give me five years and I’ll turn this into an outstanding program.” But as the old adage goes, “It’s only bragging if you can’t deliver.” Dr. Lo made good on his word.
As you enter the front door of the hyperbaric medicine service, you are greeted by four Sechrist Industries chambers. All offer clear acrylic windows and sides so patients can see what’s going on in the room outside their cocoon. One chamber—the Sechrist model 3600—holds the distinction of being the world’s first hyperbaric oxygen chamber with a large flat screen TV directly mounted on top of the unit. It allows the patient to watch movies, news, or televised entertainment, or just relax and listen to music. Many prefer to doze off to sleep.
For those who want to stay awake, the staff keeps a library of recent and classic movies. The treatments usually last between 90 minutes and two hours.
“The chamber was designed and installed for us by Ron Sechrist of Sechrist Industries,” Dr. Lo offers. “We’re the showcase for Sechrist, the leading manufacturer of hyperbaric chambers.” Each one represents the latest in technological innovations, but the one with the flat screen TV is a masterpiece of engineering.
“It’s so large,” Dr. Lo insists, “that we can fit a patient inside who is seven feet tall and weighs 750 pounds!”
Hyperbaric medicine has proven effective for a variety of medical and surgical conditions including diabetic foot wounds, compromised skin grafts and flaps, soft tissue radiation damage, refractory osteomyelitis, carbon monoxide poisoning, and decompression sickness.
The staff uses transcutaneous oxygen measurement to monitor the patient’s microcirculation throughout the treatment course to ensure that the procedure is going to maximize benefit to the patient.
“The biggest patient population we serve are people suffering from diabetes foot ulcers,” Dr. Lo explains. “But we treat many other conditions as well, including bone infections and crush injuries that have not responded appropriately to other modalities. We have also treated many cases of the dreaded flesh-eating bacteria.”
Dr. Lo goes on to explain that plans call for the addition of a fifth oxygen chamber within the next three years. “Good thing, too!” he asserts. “We’re very busy here.”
In addition to being the treatment center of choice for scuba diving accidents from the beaches of Orange County, the hyperbaric medicine service at LLUMC is the only research hyperbaric program in the Inland Empire and serves as the only hyperbaric critical care inpatient center in the area.
“In fact,” he states, “LLUMC is only one of five in all of Southern California.”
He also points out that the service is the back-up hyperbaric oxygen treatment site for local police and fire departments throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
To the left of the oxygen chambers is a painting of Dr. Lo holding the chart of Molly Weber, his former patient whose remarkable recovery inspired the work of art. The right side of the image shows a hyperbaric technician attending to Ms. Weber, who is inside one of the chambers.
The story of what Dr. Lo and his team of skilled and dedicated hyperbaric clinicians accomplished for Ms. Weber is particularly rewarding to people in the healing professions.
At the time she was referred to the hyperbaric medicine service for treatment, Ms. Weber was a 30-year-old professional woman whose career in the publishing industry had come to a tragic halt due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Among other symptoms, she had total amnesia and could not recover any of her memory.
Over the course of three months of hyperbaric therapy with Dr. Lo, she gradually regained her life. “She had to learn to read and write all over again,” the doctor states. “But she made it, and one of her relatives who happens to be a professional artist was so impressed by the treatment we provided that he created the painting and gave it to us.”
Despite promising beginnings in the 1950s, hyperbaric oxygen therapy did not come into its own for another 30 years. Today it is recognized as a legitimate medical specialty with its own regulating body, the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, which publishes a committee report every three or four years. Dr. Lo is immediate past secretary of the organization and is currently running for member-at-large. He also serves the society as a hyperbaric surveyor.
“In that capacity, I go around the country surveying other hyperbaric facilities,” he explains.
Dr. Lo also enjoys the fact that Loma Linda University Medical Center is a teaching facility. “Lots of medical students come here from other countries to research hyperbaric medicine,” he acknowledges.
He points to a woman from Korea chatting with one of his associates across the room as an example. “We are happy to help them in every way we can because we want to contribute to the growth of hyperbaric treatment around the world.”
Dr. Lo is proud of another accomplishment of the hyperbaric medicine center.
“We recently conducted a survey of all the hyperbaric patients we’ve treated here in the last 25 years,” he describes. “We’re very happy to report that in all that time, there has not been one incidence of mortality associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”
He pauses. “Considering the numbers, nature, and extent of the illnesses and injuries we treat, that’s really pretty good!”