GREENWICH, Connecticut (WABC) -- A hospital in Connecticut is one of six nationwide treating COVID-19 with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which officials say is emerging as an effective way to deliver oxygen to coronavirus patients.
Greenwich Hospital is part of a yearlong trial to treat 600 patients with the therapy, best known for treating scuba divers for decompression sickness.
The hospital has already treated three COVID-19 patients with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, with some promising results.
One patient who had severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, said his airways began to clear after 10 minutes in the chamber.
"This treatment may help some critically ill COVID-19 patients avoid intubation and mechanical ventilators, which so often impact recovery and survival," said Dr. Sandra Wainwright, medical director of Greenwich Hospital's Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Healing.
At Greenwich Hospital, hyperbaric medicine is often used to treat difficult-to-heal wounds that have not responded to traditional treatments.
Now, COVID-19 patients are finding relief in hyperbaric chambers that increase oxygen levels to extremely high levels when patients need it the most.
Delivered while patients lie in an enclosed chamber, the treatment fully saturates red blood cells and plasma with oxygen to combat the harmful effects of the coronavirus on the lungs. Patients receive the 90-minute treatment for five consecutive days.
"Patients with severe pneumonia due to COVID-19 can't get enough oxygen on their own to sustain their organs," Dr. Wainwright said. "They're constantly panting for air, breathing at about 45 to 50 breaths per minute. That's a breath almost every second."
Dr. Wainwright says 14 to 18 breaths per minute is considered normal.
But once in the chamber, patients begin to relax -- and their breathing slows down.
"You see the fear start to leave their eyes," she said. "Their muscles relax. Some patients take a nap. For a precious 90 minutes, they actually feel normal again."
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