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Published on August 21, 2018

hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Healing made possible by hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Since she was young, Donna Kruse hated her nose. She always felt it was too big, and she always seemed to have issues with it. Even a small bump would cause it to bleed, but she never thought much of it.

Now in her 50s, Donna was vacationing in July 2013 when a relative noticed her nose was swollen. Concerned, she went to urgent care. During the visit, she was referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, where she underwent a biopsy and was diagnosed with intranasal squamous cell carcinoma, or cancer of the nasal passage.

Donna Kruse

"Soon after I had the biopsy, they told me I had to lose my nose," Donna explains. "I said, 'Shut up!' and thought, 'How am I going to breathe?'" Donna chose a treatment plan that included a rhinectomy (nose removal) and prosthetic nose, along with radiation. While the treatment plan was successful, Donna's cancer came back in April 2016. This time, Donna received chemotherapy and more radiation to try once again to remove the cancer. Given the sensitive area being treated, the radiation created a wound in Donna's mouth. "My mouth was so sore," she says. "It was hard to eat and drink."

To help with the pain and healing in Donna's mouth, Sylvia A. Firary, MD, Infectious Disease and Wound Care, introduced the option of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT enhances the body's natural healing process through inhalation of 100 percent oxygen in a total body chamber, where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled. HBOT increases oxygen in the body's blood supply and stimulates growth of new blood vessels, helping to improve areas with poor circulation and heal damaged tissue while preventing the growth of bacteria in nonhealing wounds.

In the summer of 2017, shortly after being declared cancer-free for the second time, Donna started a series of 40 consecutive HBOT treatments. She spent two hours each day in the Wound Center at Gundersen in La Crosse. "I didn't really realize what HBOT would do for me until I actually tried it. They explained that it would help heal my mouth and help with the pain. It was easy. There was actually a lot of room in the 'tube,' and I could rearrange things in there and even watch TV," she explains.


HBOT can help to save limbs and heal wounds that once were thought untreatable, according to Todd Kowalski, MD, Infectious Disease and Wound Center. Patients who benefit include those who have:

  • Diabetes, resulting in severe non-healing wounds
  • A delayed radiation skin injury or radiation irritation to organs like the bladder or intestines
  • Non-healing wounds due to poor circulation (vascular insufficiency)
  • Non-healing skin grafts or skin flaps

For maximum comfort, Gundersen's two chambers are the largest and longest available, accommodating patients up to 700 pounds. During treatments, patients have access to a flatscreen TV and Gundersen's GetWellNetwork® with free TV, relaxation videos and on-demand movies.

Only halfway through her treatments, Donna began to feel the pain relief doctors told her was possible with HBOT. In September 2017 she completed her HBOT treatments and in May celebrated being one year cancer-free in Florida with her nieces.

Remembering the times when she had to be administered fluids due to the pain of eating and drinking on her own, Donna is thankful for her healing and the simple pleasure of being able to enjoy her favorite meals. "I can eat now! Everyone at Gundersen was so nice and caring, and it really did help with the pain and healing. I would tell others to do it. It helped, and it was easy."

To learn more about HBOT at Gundersen, talk with your primary care provider, wound care specialist or call the Infectious Disease and Wound Center at (608) 775-6882.

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