Hyperbaric oxygen treatment at WellStar North Fulton Hospital changed outcome for double amputee
In less than 18 months Alex Hearn went from being a trauma patient at WellStar North Fulton Hospital to being a double amputee swimming at the Iron Man triathlon in Augusta, Georgia.
Alex, 49, credits the treatment he received at North Fulton’s Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center for being able to adapt prosthetics to his legs and live an active life.
“I hate to think what it would have been if I had not received hyperbaric treatment,” said Hearn.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that enhances the body’s natural healing process by breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. In a hyperbaric chamber the pressure is increased up to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, the body can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat serious infections, bubbles of air in the blood vessels and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury to name a few.
Alex had a car accident on May 6, 2016 not far from North Fulton Hospital, a Level II trauma center. Due to the gravity of his injuries, his legs had to be amputated below the knee.
“I have no recollection of the accident. My last memory is getting in the car after having lunch with my coworkers,” said Alex. He woke up a week later and his life had changed.
“I wasn’t angry, bitter or depressed. I was very serene and excited to be alive,” he said.
After spending some time at the Intensive Care Unit he was transferred to North Fulton Hospital’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, where he did physical, occupational and speech therapy. His left leg started to get stronger, but his right leg was giving him trouble. He had extensive wounds that were not healing. That is when hyperbaric treatment was suggested.
“When we first saw Alex his lower legs were not in good shape. Our main focus was to save his knee joints so he would be able to use prosthetics and have a better outcome,” explained Debra Gonzalez, Director of the Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center at North Fulton.
He started inpatient treatment five days a week, 90 minutes per day. He was released from the hospital on July 1 and continued to get into the chamber every day until he completed 40 sessions of 90 minutes.
“It was almost like getting into a spaceship,” remembered Alex. “It is awesome technology that is available right here.”
His knees were saved and by November of 2016 and was able to start using prosthetics on his left leg. Five months later he started using prosthetics on his right leg.
“From the nurses on the second floor, to my therapists in rehab and the team in wound care and hyperbarics, everyone was phenomenal and helped me through this process. My wife was by my side all the time and we ended up becoming friends with many of them,” he said.
Alex continued his recovery process and after months of therapy he decided he wanted to something special.
“There are so many things you take for granted, like walking, jumping or running. It’s pretty tough when you realize you can’t do those things. But then when I started to see that I could do some of those things again I thought I wanted to do something I’ve never done before,” he said.
Encouraged by his physical therapist he signed up for the swim portion of the Iron Man triathlon as a physically challenged athlete. He completed the 1.2-mile swim in 43 minutes and 55 seconds.
“When they were taking me out of the water and people saw that I was missing my legs from below the knees there was a change in the mood. The cow bells were louder and people couldn’t stop cheering,” Alex recounted.
This year he plans to compete again. He’s also very active in support groups for amputees, where he shares his message of hope. “I like to share my story with amputees or physically challenged individuals, I want to tell them this is not a death sentence. If you put your mind and heart in the right place you can accomplish more than what you think.”
Alex recently started a blog to share his progress as he trains for Iron Man 2018 and invite others to share their stories. Visit his blog at www.ampuletenation.blog. To schedule an appointment at the Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center please call 770-751-2832.