Walter Suita’s most recent 5K race wasn’t his fastest, but it was one of his biggest victories. Just months earlier, a crushing 13-foot fall had shattered his hip. It took a complex surgery and weeks of oxygen treatments at the Center for Vascular, Wound & Hyperbaric Medicine at Tufts Medical Center to get him on his feet again.
Walter had climbed the ladder to clean the gutters on his house. The fall left him with two broken teeth, a gash on his face and three torn tendons in his wrist. But worse was the extensive damage to his hip, which had shattered.
Options for Healing
During a lengthy, complicated surgery, Orthopaedic Trauma Chief Scott Ryan, MD, installed a plate in Walter’s pelvis, and then Arthoplasty Service Chief Eric Smith, MD, replaced his hip. Although the surgery went as planned, it became clear within days that there was a problem.
“There had been so much trauma to his hip and initially it wasn’t healing appropriately,” Dr. Smith said. “We realized we needed to try other options.”
When additional surgery didn’t help, Dr. Smith referred Walter for oxygen treatments at the Vascular, Wound & Hyperbaric Center.
“At that point, I was really starting to get nervous,” Walter said. “It was a dark time for me. I was worried that if things didn’t get better, I would lose my leg.”
Healing with Oxygen
The hyperbaric chamber is a long, enclosed cylinder in which patients lay down and breathe 100 percent oxygen. The oxygen aids in healing a range of internal and external wounds.
Patients generally spend two hours a day in the chamber five days a week for several weeks depending on their condition. Walter started while he was an inpatient and continued after leaving the hospital.
It can be an overwhelming and frightening prospect, but the nurses at the center work carefully with the patients to help them through it and ease any fears.
“I’m a medical provider. I’ve been all over and I’ve seen a lot of providers, but the care I received there was out of this world,” says Walter, an occupational health nurse. “The nurses there were so attentive to me and they really got me through some of the worst days of my life.”
Kindness Helps Healing
Walter said he found the chamber experience to be easier than he had anticipated.
“The mattresses are quite comfortable,” he explains. “And you can feel the improvement in the wound daily. Within just a week or two, I was feeling much better. I could actually feel the strength in my legs coming back.”
Walter said he was also impressed with how well the staff took care of his wife when she brought him in for the treatments.
“We do what we can to look after the families as well as the patients because we want the patients to concentrate on getting better,” says Wound Center Nurse Manager Kathleen A. Sylvia RN, WCC. “We know they need emotional support as well as the medical care.”
The nurses were expert in other ways as well, such as knowing when to help or not, Walter says. For instance, when he told a nurse that he wanted to tie his own shoes, she let him but stayed nearby.
“She could have just walked away, but she waited to see if I needed help. Little things like that are a big deal,” he says
Walter, once an advanced level rescue diver, doesn’t expect to reach his former level of intensive activity, but he is looking forward to diving again. And he’s glad to be able to stay active. Though he doesn’t run anymore, he walks for an hour five days a week.
“It was an ordeal to get here, but I’m glad that there were people committed to helping me make it,” Walter says.