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HomeNewsArchivesSchneider Medical Device Helps Cure the Bends, Other Ills

Schneider Medical Device Helps Cure the Bends, Other Ills

Oct. 8, 2008 — A hyperbaric chamber on St. Thomas offers security for divers and treats other medical problems as well, a hospital official told members of dive clubs and business owners gathered at Bolongo Bay Wednesday night for an information and question-and-answer session with representatives from the Divers Alert Network (DAN).
Two DAN officials have come to St. Thomas to inspect the island's hyperbaric chamber, which is located in Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center: Joel Dovenbarger, vice president of medical services for DAN, and Francois Burman, the network's CFO and operations director.
"It builds confidence and let's people know everything is okay," said Dovenbarger, who has worked with DAN since 1985. "We're asked a lot where the hyperbaric chambers are in the Caribbean; divers that travel want to pick their destination by where there's a chamber."
The purpose of the hyperbaric chamber is to remove air bubbles, usually nitrogen, that have accumulated and grown within a person's system after a dive, causing an inability to move — commonly known as the bends. It creates the atmosphere of being underwater, reducing the size of the bubbles so that the individual can breathe them out normally.
"We have very few customers who have been tourists divers on St. Thomas," said Steve Prosterman, who has been working the chamber since 1985.
There have been a few cases of tourists from the British Virgin Islands and St. Croix who have needed the chamber, but the majority of cases have involved commercial fishermen from St. Croix practicing unsafe diving.
"There are very few accidents that occur, given the amount of divers that we have," explained Pam Balash of the St. Thomas Diving Club, who has been in this business for 30 years. "Part of the reason for that is the diving facilities in the Virgin Islands put a guide in the water with the divers. We're there to provide a very safe diving experience for people."
Even with the number of incidents and risk factor being so low, there is no way to completely prevent cases of the bends. The DAN representatives stressed the need for extreme caution and slowness when rising to the surface after a dive.
"There are times when we get customers that get what we call an 'undeserved hit,'" Prosterman said. "They're following all the rules, but still get the bends."
Prosterman manages the operation at Schneider, along with Dr. David Weisher and Jill Anderson, a physician's assistant. At the moment, Prosterman and Weisher are the only people trained to run the chamber. They are hoping to use a new manual written by Burman to offer a six-day training course on operating the chamber for representatives from the diving businesses. It is set to begin Jan. 1, 2009.
"A lot of diving associations do something in some way to support the chambers," Dovernbarger said. "I hope to get the group together here to work in the chamber."
Although originally designed to address issues associated with diving, there have been multiple other treatments discovered using the chamber.
"Back in 2003 hyperbaric medicine really took off, and it's not just for diving now," Weisher said.
In addition to treating diving injuries, the chambers are used to prevent amputation and treat the effects of acute strokes, neurological issues, carbon-monoxide poisoning and, in one treatment by Weisher based on other studies, advancing Alzheimer's disease.
"Hyperbaric medicine is a whole new field," Weisher said. "We're coming out with new applications for it all the time."
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