Dr. Sofonio

Dr. Mark V. Sofonio recommends HBOT for some patients.

The use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers in medicine is noted as far back as the 1800’s. But for many of us, the words only conjure up the memory of a ‘weird’ Michael Jackson sleeping in one.

The most noted beginning of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is from use by divers in the early 1900’s for decompression sickness and air and gas embolism, or blockage. In fact, it is the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) and the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology that govern its use today.

HBOT is now widely accepted as an FDA approved, effective and often life saving modality. There are currently 16 conditions covered by insurance including diabetic wound healing, carbon monoxide poisoning, some acute traumas, pressure ulcers, and the list is growing.

“In some states like Texas and Florida, HBOT is paid out of state funds for the treatment of autism, as well as, trauma and brain injuries due to its unique effectiveness,” says Maria Himelman, owner of Desert Hyperbaric Medicine in Palm Desert.
Oxygen is an important part of wound healing. During an HBOT treatment, oxygen under pressure is delivered into the chamber increasing the partial pressure within a person’s body as much as 15 times above normal tissue saturation. This accelerated oxygen absorption significantly aids in healing at the cellular level.

HBO therapy is commonly used for diabetic wounds that won’t heal, oral bone conditions, traumatic injuries, neurological disorders, burn cases and plastic surgery. In the holistic field, the therapy is used for wellness and anti-aging to improve energy levels, repair skin damage, manage stress, and improve sleep.

Dr. Robert L. Bass of Desert Oral Surgery has used HBOT off and on for 25 years. “HBO therapy helps resolve cases that are not healing on their own or are not responding to antibiotics such as osteomyelitis (an infection in the jawbone).” He has also seen very high success rates in all cases of radiation necrosis. “Radiation to the jaw for the treatment of cancer affects the blood supply and weakens the bone. HBOT aids in rebuilding the bone.”

Dr. Mark Sofonio, board-certified plastic surgeon in Rancho Mirage, states that HBO therapy has made plastic surgery an option for some who were not considered candidates in the past. “Good tissue profusion is necessary post-op, which makes smokers risky candidates as they have high levels of carbon monoxide in their blood and tend not to carry as much oxygen throughout their body. Nicotine also causes spasm of the arteries.” He states, “The old adage used to be that you should not do a facial or extensive procedures on smokers. HBOT has changed that.”

Dr. Sofonio also sees improvement in patients with significant swelling as the increased oxygen allows the body to remove fluid and edema. Sofonio was one of the first to use this healing modality when it was introduced to the Valley 10 years ago.


Technician Dale Harold speaks with a patient during HBO therapy.

“I ran a burn unit at New York Medical Center and used the therapy often for aggressive tissue problems. I’m very familiar with the many benefits HBOT can deliver.” Sofonio agrees that the use of HBOT as a medical modality is much more common on the east coast and throughout the world than it is here.

It should to be noted that oxygen therapy is considered a drug and should always be administered by a certified professional. Dale Harold of Desert Hyperbaric Medicine has been a CHT certified technician for 17 years. “Prior to administering treatment, patients undergo a thorough evaluation. We monitor blood pressure, blood sugar, and what medications a patient is taking as there are a few contra indicators. I work with our medical director to determine if patients are candidates for the treatment. It can be life changing for many.”

The type of chamber is important as well, as only some pressurize to the level that is considered effective and FDA approved for wound care. Harold has worked with Sechrist Monoplace Chambers and considers them industry leaders. “These chambers operate with a systematic delivery of oxygen throughout the entire chamber and pressurize to a deeper level. There is no need to hold a mask and the clear acrylic dome alleviates anxiety for many patients who can watch TV or see and speak with us.”

Himelman joined Desert Hyperbaric Medicine, previously named Rancho Mirage Hyperbarics, two years ago and has seen HBO therapy grow as a medical modality here in the Desert. “The frequency of referrals from physicians with whom we work is increasing significantly as doctors see the results for their patients. We are proud to offer this growing modality to physicians and individuals here in the Coachella Valley.”

For a complete list of covered and non-covered conditions that may benefit from HBOT, visit DesertHyperbaricMedicine.com or call 760.773.3899.

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