DEL NORTE— By the time Doug Davie visited the new wound center at Rio Grande Hospital, the open wound on his left foot was so advanced that his muscle tendons were exposed. Davie, who’s lived on his family’s 700-acre Monte Vista farm all of his life, said the problems began several years ago when he developed an infection in his toes due to diabetes. The toes were amputated, but another wound eventually developed on the bottom of his foot.
“When they amputated my toes, they didn’t put me to sleep because I couldn’t feel anything,” he said. “Diabetic neuropathy made my feet numb. After that, the wound on my foot continued to get worse. I went on for years hoping it would get better, but it never healed.”
Davie did his best to take care of the wound himself while caring for his wife, who was dying of cancer. (She passed away three years ago.) Last fall, as it continued to fester, his family encouraged him to make an appointment at Rio Grande Hospital’s new wound center, where he would receive specialized treatment.
“When we first met Mr. Davie, there was a very large wound on the bottom of his foot, and it had been there for at least five years,” said Dr. Pat Thompson. “The tendons were exposed. He’d seen multiple doctors and had several procedures, but it wasn’t healing, and he was pretty discouraged.”
In addition to antibiotics and weekly debridement, which involves the careful removal of necrotic (dying) tissue, Dr. Thompson recommended Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), in the hospital’s new state-of-the-art chamber. Oxygen can play an important part in healing chronic wounds stemming from diabetes, vascular disorders, or radiation treatment. During HBOT, patients are immersed in 100 percent oxygen in a large, pressurized environment for 90-120 minutes per session.
In Davie’s case, he was in the chamber two hours a day, five days a week, for two months. Today, his wound is almost completely healed.
According to Rio Grande Hospital CEO Arlene Harms, until this year, residents of the San Luis Valley had to drive long distances for the treatment, often over winding roads and high mountain peaks.
“We’re proud to say that we’re the only hospital in the region that offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” said Harms. “Patients can get the same quality of service you’d get in a large metropolitan area right here, without the long drive.”
“We have two highly skilled physicians, and we found an amazing wound care nurse through Wound Care Advantage, our California-based management company,” she said. “Our HBO technician initially worked in the ER and was very interested in wound care. The team came together like a fairy tale and our board has been incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. Wound Care Advantage has also helped us with specialized training for the entire team.”
Davie can now tinker around his farm, visit his children and grandchildren, drive around on his tractor, or meet friends for breakfast. In other words, he can go back to living his life.
“Being here in the San Luis Valley, there are very few specialists,” Davie said. “Dr. Thompson is a great guy, a terrific doctor, and he’s from the area. He was a Marine in Desert Storm, came home, and went to medical school. He and the other doctor here, Dr. Tiffany Ward, are really dedicated to this hospital, and wound care, and the patients. Everyone at the Rio Grande wound care clinic is great.”
“In another week or so, my wound will be gone,” he said. “I’m pretty tickled about that.”
What would Davie tell someone who has a chronic, non-healing wound and is trying to tough it out - or treat it themselves?
“If you have a wound, don’t let it go,” he said. “The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you’ll get over it. The staff at Rio Grande Hospital is wonderful and they take great care of the patients. Don’t wait.”
Dr. Tiffany Ward says the focus is simple: saving limbs and lives.
“We have a lot of patients who have wounds that are so chronic, and so advanced, that they are at serious risk of amputation of the lower limb or foot, and the five-year mortality rate following an amputation is very high, upwards of 80 percent,” she said. “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and specialized wound care allow us to prevent this and save lives. We want to be in the salvage business, not the amputation business.
If you or someone you know has a wound that will not heal, contact Rio Grande Hospital Wound Center at 719-657-3277. Visit www.riograndehospital.org for more details.