Demand Grows at Larger Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Wound Center
More patients taking advantage of hyperbaric oxygen chambers’ healing properties, including those suffering from vision complications
Photo Credit: Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo
It was just after 9 a.m. on a recent Thursday when Lee Prlia was putting out plastic lawn furniture at his cabin in the Santa Ynez Valley. Friends were on their way to visit the place that he and his wife use as a weekend getaway from their San Pedro home.
Prlia set the table down and turned, noticing something wrong.
He suddenly couldn’t see out of his right eye except for a small portion in the corner. Scared, he called out for his wife, Susan, who rushed him to the emergency room at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.
Doctors sent Prlia to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital and an on-call ophthalmologist who diagnosed him with central retinal artery occlusion — a condition caused when something blocks an artery in the retina. Typically, permanent blindness follows.
Serendipitously for the Prlias, their ophthalmologist had just had lunch that day with Dr. John Deacon, one of a handful of physicians working at the Goleta hospital’s Ridley-Tree Center for Wound Management.
The two had discussed whether the Wound Center’s hyperbaric oxygen chambers might be able to cure the exact eye injury that Prlia had.
Two hours and two atmospheric pressures later, Prlia emerged from the chamber of pure oxygen with at least 60 percent of his right eyesight intact.
“The stars just all aligned,” Susan Prlia told Noozhawk. “That first day especially was a huge, huge difference between how we walked into the emergency room and how we walked out of there.
“It really was amazing. We feel really fortunate that we just happened to be there.”
The procedure wasn’t experimental but it was a first for Cottage Health’s Wound Center, which grew to four hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers from two last summer when the new Goleta Valley hospital opened its doors.
Since then, the out-patient Wound Center has been serving more people than ever, all in an effort to accelerate the healing process by immersing a patient in 100 percent oxygen.
A regular room, by comparison, boasts 21 percent oxygen, Deacon explained.
Patients lie on a gurney in the clear, cylinder-shaped hyperbaric chamber, which then simulates the pressure of diving in water.
“It’s all happening through the lungs,” Deacon said, noting the heart is then able to pump oxygen to other parts of the body to improve circulation and assist in healing a wound.
Most patients dive at least two atmospheres and can watch movies or TV on a small screen while under observation, said Susan San Marco, the center’s service line director.
Crush injuries, lower extremity wounds and diabetes are the most common ailments, she said.
Founded at the Goleta hospital in April 2006, the Wound Center will celebrate its 10th year in 2016. It now serves more patients than ever — 14 to 16 per day — due to additional chambers and regular hours five days a week.
Cottage Health also opened a satellite wound center office in Santa Ynez to better serve North County residents, although San Marco said the Wound Center sees patients from as far away as San Luis Obispo County and Bakersfield.
She said Cottage’s Wound Center disease-specific certification is one of a handful in California and just 21 across the United States.
Being able to save a person’s limb — or eyesight — is what San Marco said makes the job worthwhile.
Prlia’s right eye will never regain 100-percent vision, but the couple is hopeful more will return once swelling inside his eye decreases.
“I honestly don’t know if that would’ve happened any other place that we would’ve had that kind of outcome,” Susan Prlia said, noting there aren’t hyperbaric chambers near the retired couple’s other home.
“Everybody there was so nice. I hope that they are able to use that for other people and save other people’s eyesight.”
By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer