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Tim Hanley

Oxygen Therapy for slow-healing fractures

When Tim Hanley, a 48-year-old fireman from Ashford, suffered a severe mid shaft fracture in his arm it didn’t seem to be healing. Keen to avoid surgery and also get back to work, he tried hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Following an accident while pruning a tree in my garden in June 2007, I didn’t realise it would lead to me taking a year off my job as a fireman.

I fractured the humerus in my left arm, one of the main load-bearing bones in the upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow.

At A&E, I was told that there were a range of treatments available: having a pin inserted, the bone plated or, in the case of my fracture, to allow it to heal naturally.

This involved a very heavy hanging plaster cast, where my bone was placed under manual traction by the weight of the cast to straighten and reduce the fracture.

But despite strong prescription painkillers, the pain grew increasingly worse over the next six weeks. My discomfort was such that I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes and it felt that the weight of the cast was almost dislocating my shoulder. All in all, it was pretty horrible.

Moreover, it just didn’t seem to be healing well. Normally this type of injury is in plaster for anything from 8-12 weeks, but whenever I walked suddenly my fracture started moving about and I felt the surgical route was looking increasingly likely.

Finding out about hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Out of desperation – and hoping to avoid surgery – I asked a physiotherapist friend for thoughts on any other type of treatment. He’d seen hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (Oxygen Therapy) be useful for healing fractures, and suggested calling the Isle of Man Hyperbaric Unit.

There, they said that they used Oxygen Therapy a lot for motorcyclists with serious fractures, and referred me on to the Kent MS Therapy Centre.

When I met the centre’s Member Support Officer for a pre-treatment assessment at the end of July, I couldn’t stand up and was in a lot of pain. But the team at the Centre was extremely helpful and supportive, working late to complete the paperwork I needed to be booked in for an initial course of 10 sessions.

Starting to notice a difference

The first week I had three sessions of Oxygen Therapy, and started to feel less pain. Then I noticed that my fracture began to stiffen for a few minutes, before stiffening for longer periods.

A month after starting Oxygen Therapy I had an X-ray which showed the first sign of a callus formation (bony healing tissue) on the fracture. My arm was starting to feel as one again.

Over the coming weeks the arm gradually bit by bit started to feel better, and I’m sure this was because of the oxygen.

From that September to December I had another 30 sessions of Oxygen Therapy. Things continued to improve until after 17 weeks in plaster, the plaster finally came off.

Next was the long path back to using my now severely-weakened arm. This involved physiotherapy and gradual strengthening exercises. I also continued with Oxygen Therapy until the next April when my consultant gave me the all clear to start fully using my arm again – 10 months after my accident.

Spending time in the chamber

I’m grateful for Kent Oxygen Therapy at KMSTC for several reasons. Firstly, I started going there when I was in a lot of pain plus was mentally quite fragile, and my experience was hugely positive.

During my sessions I met some fantastically warm people, who despite many of them living with multiple sclerosis, were incredibly supportive of my condition and interested in my progress. With such a positive outlook themselves, they all helped me to get a sense of perspective about my injury.

I came away feeling that the staff and users of the Kent MS centre are brilliant people who welcomed me and treated me as a good friend.

And also of course from a medical perspective, Oxygen Therapy was non-invasive with no side effects. I’d highly recommend anyone with a poorly healing fracture to try this route before the surgical option.

I have no doubt that without the centre’s Oxygen Therapy chamber I’d have needed surgery for my fracture, with all the possible complications that would have entailed.”

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