Forrest General’s Wound Healing Center helps patient overcome obstacles on the way to a new normal
Hattiesburg, Miss. (November 3, 2017)— Karen Hayes has always been a fighter. At 8 years old, she suffered from a stroke that paralyzed the right side of her body. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1978, and since then, has faced struggles common to those with the illness. In March 2017, she noticed a sudden, terrible pain in her right leg.
“All of a sudden, my leg started hurting. It was a different kind of hurt. It was the worst hurt a person could ever have, I assume. It was the worst hurt I had ever had,” Karen said.
Karen’s general practitioner found that she had three blood clots in her right leg and sent her immediately to Forrest General Hospital for further treatment.
Karen said, “I was sent to the hospital, and they put me on Eliquis, which was able to dissolve one of the clots. The other two were deep vein thrombosis. It was the first time I had ever heard of that.”
Having diabetes dramatically increases a patient’s chance of developing blood clots because of the increase of plaque buildup in the arteries. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) refers to blood clots that have formed in veins located deep in the limbs. As in Karen’s case, DVT typically affects the legs. It is especially dangerous because those clots can break off and travel through the bloodstream, which can cause a number of life threatening conditions such as pulmonary embolism.
Because only one of the clots could be dissolved, physicians were left with no other option than to amputate Karen’s foot and part of her leg below the knee. The blood clots in her legs had prevented the flow of blood beyond the blockage, which caused tissue death (necrosis) in those areas. Without amputation, necrosis can lead to infection and gangrene, which can become life-threatening if it spreads through the body.
“One of the worst things was the phantom pain. You always hear about war veterans having it. It really happens. I fell a couple of times because it felt like I had a foot, and I forgot that I didn’t,” Karen said.
Karen’s husband, Peter, has been with her since the diagnosis supporting her through the recovery process and modifying their home to accommodate her new way of life. After the operation, the couple traveled to Forrest General’s Wound Healing Center three times a week to have the wound assessed and properly cleaned and to receive specialized treatment to heal the area as quickly as possible.
“Many patients have underlying conditions, including diabetes or vascular disease, that slow or prevent their body’s natural wound healing process. Using a variety of treatments, we optimize the conditions for their body to heal,” said Daniel Smith, M.D.
Dr. Smith performed a weekly cleaning called debridement, which is the process of removing unhealthy tissue from a wound to promote healing and to encourage the development of new, healthy skin. Additionally, the wound healing team used hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) as part of Karen’s treatment plan. HBO is a medical treatment that increases the amount of oxygen in the patient’s blood, allowing oxygen to pass more easily through the plasma into the wounds to heal them. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers surround patients with one hundred percent oxygen at higher than normal atmospheric pressure. Because wounds require oxygen to heal, HBO can decrease the time it takes for serious wounds to heal; on average, patients receiving HBO are 90% healed after 12-16 weeks of therapy.
“I love the people at the Wound Healing Center. They really care about what they’re doing there,” said Karen. She also recalled how comfortable she was in the hyperbaric chambers. Karen said, “My ears would pop at first in the chamber, but it’s a great place to sleep. I would take an hour to an hour and a half nap and wake up happy!
Sessions in the hyperbaric chamber usually last around 2 hours, and although patients cannot bring magazines or books into the chambers, each one is equipped with a television so patients can watch TV or enjoy a movie during their treatments. Many patients, like Karen, take the opportunity for some well-deserved rest.
Once Karen’s wound healed completely, the next step was to be fitted for her prosthetic limb starting with a socket. The evening before her fitting, Karen said, “This is really the fourth time I’ve learned how to walk. I learned for the first time as a baby, then after my stroke. After the operation, I had my walker, and tomorrow, I might be walking again.”
Today, Karen is happy with her progress and hopeful for the future as she awaits the final fitting for her prostheses.
For more information about Forrest General’s Wound Healing Center, visit forrestgeneral.com/woundhealing.