Local medical center uses uncommon technology


Elisa Boyd still remembers the split second that left her daughter Sariah badly burned. She was taking a pot of boiling water off the stove and didn't notice that Sariah had wandered next to her legs.

"And just my motion of stopping to put it back on once I saw where she was, there was a splashover [sic], and that hit Sariah's forehead and scalp," said Boyd.

Sariah was rushed to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. Swelling from the burns had forced her eyes closed. So in addition to treating her skin, doctors decided to attack the swelling, not with a drug, but with oxygen.

"And the idea is by reducing swelling, inflammation and blocking of that continued, ongoing burn deep in the tissues, you're going to improve outcomes," said Peter Benson, M.D., from John Muir Medical Center.

Benson directs John Muir's hyperbaric unit, where the pressurized chambers force oxygen into a patient's bloodstream.

"By shrinking the swelling, you're actually allowing more blood and nutrients to reflow into the injured extremity or wherever it may be on the body and promote healing," said Peter Benson, M.D., from John Muir Medical Center.

But getting a patient as young as Sariah to lie in the chamber for several hours presented a special challenge, so her grandmother Erica Shore, volunteered to lie in the chamber with her.

"I really couldn't sit up, there were two of us in there. Fortunately it was clear, so we ended up watching a lot of movies," said Shore.

The medical center is one of the few in Northern California to use hyperbaric oxygen chambers as part of its trauma care. Dr. Benons says the oxygenation process aids healing in several ways including stimulating the growth of new blood vessels.

"As you can imagine, if you grow new blood vessels in a wound, you now have more tributaries, more source of blood flow through that wound, which causes the wound to heal," said said Benson.

Edgar Barajas saw the effect on his injured hand.

"I had my hand on top of the car, on the roof, and then at that time, when you press the break, the car flipped over," said Barajas.

Despite the crush injury, doctors were able to preserve all of his fingers and most of the motion in his hand.

"They told me maybe I will lose some mobility, but it will heal up really nice," said Barajas.

Doctors say the chambers are now routinely used to aid the healing of limb reattachments, as well as burns. In Sariah's case, her skin has regenerated to the point that her family believes she may be spared skin grafts or other cosmetic surgeries, leaving her time to plan for a party coming up soon since she'll be turning 4.

The hyperbaric chambers have a few side-effects such as getting claustrophobic or having pressure in the ears, similar to descending in an airplane.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.