Published on May 1st, 2019
Open House at St. Luke’s Wound Management & Hyperbaric Center-Lehighton
For people with stubborn wounds that won’t heal or radiation treatment injuries, St. Luke’s University Health Network has had a team of specially trained physicians ready to offer care from Tamaqua to Quakertown. Now, you can add Lehighton to the list.
What: The public and news media are invited to tour St. Luke’s Wound Management & Hyperbaric Center–Lehighton.
Where: 525 Iron Street.
When: From 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 2.
In addition, guests may register for a free foot screening by a licensed podiatrist or a wound care physician. Appointments are required. To register for the open house or to schedule a foot screening, call St. Luke’s InfoLink at 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537), option 4.
In January, St. Luke’s University Health Network reopened the center after extensive renovations. The center was once operated by Blue Mountain Health System, which merged with St. Luke’s University Health Network in 2018.
The Lehighton facility is now one of six Wound Management & Hyperbaric Centers operated by St. Luke’s. Other locations are in Allentown, Bethlehem, Quakertown, Tamaqua and Phillipsburg, N.J.
The centers specialize in treating wounds caused by diabetes (especially foot wounds), trauma, disorders of the veins and arteries of lower extremities, pressure-related injuries and complex surgery.
At the Lehighton center, the top-down makeover didn’t stop at new walls, carpeting and office furniture. St. Luke’s relocated two hyperbaric chambers – medical devices long-associated with saving the lives of SCUBA divers suffering from decompression illness. Today, hyperbaric medicine is now commonly used to treat a growing number of illnesses, including wounds. One unit is up and running and the other is undergoing certification.
Steven Bowers, DO, network medical director of Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine, said St. Luke’s decided to reopen the wound center and add hyperbaric chambers after seeing how many patients from the area were venturing to its Allentown and Bethlehem centers for treatment.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a non-invasive procedure that stimulates the repair of damaged blood vessels and tissue through exposure to pressurized, pure oxygen. Dr. Bowers explained that the process helps drive oxygen more quickly into the liquid part of the blood bypassing red blood cells. In turn, it helps grow new blood vessels that will flow blood into and rejuvenate damaged tissue.
During treatment, patients lie in a long, clear acrylic chamber that is pressurized at up to 2.5 times the normal level and filled with 100 percent oxygen. In comparison, room air consists of about 21 percent oxygen.
Patients undergoing this type of therapy typically receive 30-40 treatments, each of which last two hours. Usually, patients sleep or watch TV while the oxygen is administered, Dr. Bowers said.
Most patients undergoing the hyperbaric oxygen therapy have had radiation treatment for cancer and are now suffering from delayed radiation injury, a condition in which tissue surrounding the cancerous site becomes damaged from the treatment, he said. About 5 percent of patients undergoing radiation experience a related injury. For them, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only treatment available for relief from the condition that causes pain and bleeding.
Patients suffering from diabetic foot ulcers that won’t respond to traditional treatment may also benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Judging by the reaction of patients so far, Dr. Bowers said the Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center—Lehighton is a welcomed addition to St. Luke’s offerings.
“Since we’ve opened, we have been completely filled with patients,” he said of the hyperbaric chamber in operation. The reaction shows why St. Luke’s is committed to bringing such care to rural areas, he said. Primary physicians aren’t usually trained to deal with stubborn wounds. As a result, some patients endure pain and suffering for years.
“It can be a real chronic issue for a lot of patients,” he said. “If we can get them healed and back to a normal life, it’s a pretty significant thing for them.”
One patient who is pleased with the new facility is Richard Knappenberger, 79, of Walnutport. In January, the retired Mack Trucks worker visited the emergency department of St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus. Diagnosed with cellulitis, he is being treated by Andrew Smith, MD.
“Dr. Smith’s really gentle when he works on you. He’s got great knowledge. He’s just an unbelievable person,” Knappenberger said.
Knappenberger said he first went to the Bethlehem Center but then switched to Lehighton because it’s closer and a much easier drive.
“I would rate it the tops,” Knappenberger said. “The people there are so good to me. They make you feel at home. The first time you see them, they bond with you.”
Dr. Bowers said he encourages the public to come to the May 2 open house. He also said anyone with a wound that hasn’t healed in six weeks shouldn’t hesitate to call St. Luke’s at 484-526-5585. Medicare and most commercial insurance plans cover wound care, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy.