A doctor from Newfoundland and Labrador says it's concerning that Saskatchewan hasn't had a running hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) program for more than two and a half years.
HBOT uses high concentrations of oxygen to prevent tissue death, promote healing and fight infections for patients with various injuries including carbon monoxide poisoning, burns and necrosis from radiation.
The province's only HBOT chamber at Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital in Moose Jaw closed "temporarily" in July 2021 so that respiratory therapists could be reassigned to emergency, intensive and acute care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
Dr. Ken LeDez is the medical director of the hyperbaric medicine service at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, N.L., which offers people in that province 24/7 access to HBOT.
He was shocked to learn Saskatchewan residents don't have an operating chamber, considering the province has more than double the population of Newfoundland and Labrador.
LeDez said there are enough people in Saskatchewan to merit multiple HBOT chambers.
"It just goes without saying that a person's quality of life is going to be better and then their survival may be better," LeDez said.
"This important service is very important to the people of Saskatchewan and decision makers need to wake up to this."
File photo of a woman inside a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber in St. John's, N.L. (Submitted by Elizabeth Hogan)
Petition to resume HBOT program
Regina's Tamara Heppner would benefit from the SHA reopening the chamber in Moose Jaw.
Heppner underwent three rounds of radiation after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2020 and has been in remission since February 2021.
In the nearly three years since, she has been in and out of hospital with severe bleeding and blood clots caused by necrosis — the death of body tissues — as a result of the cancer treatment.
When she is healthy enough, Heppner travels about 675 kilometres to Calgary to access HBOT, but her son Brayden Dutchak would like to see an option closer to home.
Tamara Heppner, middle, has suffered from radiation-induced necrosis, bleeding and blood clots for nearly three years. But her son Brayden Dutchak, right, says she hasn't been able to access hyperbaric oxygen therapy because the province's only clinic in Moose Jaw was temporarily closed in 2021. They are pictured here with Heppner's daughter, Shawntae Sharpe. (Submitted by Brayden Dutchak)
Dutchak said he believes HBOT can help keep his mother alive.
He started a petition in late December to call for the SHA to "immediately" prioritize hiring and recruiting the staff needed to reopen he Moose Jaw HBOT chamber and said he has contacted every Saskatchewan MLA about the issue.
"The trouble that I'm having right now, and have had trouble with, is that a lot of people aren't even familiar with the treatment," Dutchak said.
LeDez agreed that there is a need for more awareness around the benefits of HBOT.
"One of the things that really helps to convince people is when they refer patients and see patients get better and see the results in front of their eyes," LeDez said.
LeDez added not having HBOT service in Saskatchewan could lead to an increase in amputations, which are more costly than the oxygen therapy.
SHA committed to reopening chamber
The SHA said it is committed to restarting the HBOT program in Moose Jaw as soon as possible. The hospital currently has three full-time respiratory therapists, with recruitment of a fourth underway.
"Once the necessary training specific to the unit and safety measures are completed in the coming weeks, partial resumption of services will resume," a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
"Once the fourth position has been filled, the SHA will be in a position to plan a full resumption of HBOT services."
Listen| Doctor shocked that Sask. doesn't have operating HBOT program:
LeDez said there needs to be more urgency from the SHA.
"You have to pay people, you can't do things on the cheap and cut corners. You have to make a serious commitment and if you don't have the staff, then it's time to arrange to get them trained," LeDez said.
LeDez also said the SHA could move the HBOT chamber to a larger hospital in Regina or Saskatoon that likely has more respiratory therapists so the service can resume sooner.