Several years ago Frisco resident Paul Mattson never would have imagined he could use oxygen to fuel his own therapeutic business.
A biologist and a chemist by education, Mattson first began exploring the benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in 2008 when his son was diagnosed with autism. Shortly after he purchased his own hyperbaric chamber and opened Mountain Hyperbarics at 101 Main St. in Frisco.
During the last five years, Mattson and Jeff Miller, a respiratory therapist and hyperbaric chamber technician, have performed hundreds of treatments, including more than 140 on Mattson’s son, and they’re seeing “marked improvements” in their clients.
But Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is still considered an investigative treatment, which means that although it is approved for certain conditions, and may even be covered by health insurance, doctors are still exploring its effectiveness in people with brain disorders, stroke victims or patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for cancer, among many other conditions.
Even though it hasn’t yet been proven as a beneficial treatment across a whole gamut of medical conditions, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy received national attention when it was used to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs.
“This is one of the only treatments available that allows oxygen to penetrate the blood-brain barrier,” Miller said. “Because oxygen is vital to the healing process, breaking that barrier allows oxygen to reach damaged parts of the brain to facilitate the healing process, which can’t happen at sea level and under normal breathing conditions.”
In order to get more oxygen to affected parts of the body, Mountain Hyperbarics places its patients in a hyperbaric chamber, which resembles a small, one-person submarine. Treatments are subsequently referred to as dives and includes pressurizing the chamber to a specific atmosphere with air while the patient breaths pure oxygen through a hood. Dives typically last 90 minutes to allow for compression and decompression time. To what atmosphere the chamber is pressurized depends on the condition that is being treated, Mattson said, but Mountain Hyperbarics typically operates between 1 and 2.5 atmospheres of pressure.
The science of how the combination of pure oxygen and pressure is further complicated by Summit County’s elevation, but generally speaking 1.3 to 1.5 atmospheres of pressure is optimal for treating traumatic brain injury, developmental brain disorders from conditions like autism or for improving functions in people who have suffered a stroke, Mattson explained. At 2 atmospheres of pressure, oxygen can penetrate three times further into blood cells, plasma and tissue, making it ideal for people recovering from burns, bone fractures, skin grafts, infections and a variety of surgeries.
“Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is not exactly about getting 100 percent healed, but about improving the quality of life for both the patient and the caregiver,” Mattson said. “For example, a lot of stroke victims lose their ability to eat, walk or use the bathroom on their own. Those are things we all take for granted, so if you can improve those functions it can make a huge difference in a person’s life and I’ve had stroke victims make up to an 80 percent recovery.”
Mountain Hyperbarics offers the treatment at about 25 percent of the cost of most Colorado hospitals, but it’s still expensive, running at $150 to $200 for each 90-minute dive. Blocks of 10 dives can be purchased at a 33 percent discount for $1,000 to $1,300.
Although some patients have successfully negotiated reimbursements from their health insurance providers, Mattson said people shouldn’t rely on their treatments being covered, nor should they expect to see results in one or two treatments.
Most infections can be healed in less than a dozen dives and with traditional medical treatment, depending on the severity of the infection, Mattson said. Brain disorders are another story and research shows patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries could require anywhere between 40 and 80 dives.
“This is not a magic bullet treatment and it is not intended to produce overnight results,” Mattson said. “It’s more of a marathon than a sprint and does not eliminate the need for traditional medical treatment, but as an adjunct treatment hyperbaric oxygen therapy can expedite the healing process.”
For more information about Mountain Hyperbarics, visit www.mountainhyperbarics.com or call 668-0110.