Hope is in the air for autism: Parents see improvements with hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Nov 16, 2011 | 5907 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THOMAS WEBSTER, seen inside this hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Cleveland, is excited to receive his one-hour daily treatment. His mother, Rhonda Arms, back left, said her 18-year-old son, who is mildly autistic has experienced dramatic improvement. Back right is Tracy Senters, a CNA and HBO technician with Hyperbaric Services of East Tennessee. Photo by WILLIAM WRIGHT
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Stephanie McClain knows there is no cure for autism, but she and her autistic son, Corey, have discovered new hope for a calmer lifestyle by using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to enhance the body’s natural healing process.

The wife and mother of three said the discovery of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT, in Cleveland has been a real blessing to her and her family who had been searching for some kind of treatment to alleviate the challenges associated with autism.

“When Corey wants something or something is wrong, he gets real frustrated,” McClain admits. “He might pinch or bite or throw himself on the floor and start crying — whether it be the floor at the mall or at home.”

Since the hyperactive 7-year-old received 16 treatments in four weeks, McClain said she noticed changes in her son’s cognitive skills and demeanor.

“He’s real calm right after his treatments,” McClain said. “It seems to have a calming affect on him. Corey also lets me brush his teeth now. That’s a big step! We would have to hold him down before. He’s also been saying “Momma” a lot more and a lot clearer. He just seems more cooperative.”

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves the breathing of pure oxygen while in a sealed chamber that has been pressurized at 1 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. It is the medical use of oxygen for a wide variety of ailments, including autism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

According to McClain, the changes in her son’s behavior are real and linked to HBO therapy — a blessing for which she and her husband, Scott, are especially thankful.

“For (Corey) to be cooperative — just to do little things like go to the grocery store and be cooperative — that’s a big step. You don’t realize how big it is until you have a child who’s not cooperative.”

Rhonda Arms, an RN at the Hyperbaric Services of East Tennessee in Cleveland, brings her 18-year-old son, Thomas Webster, in for hyperbaric oxygen therapy one hour every day. Thomas was diagnosed as mildly autistic with obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder, according to Arms.

After 28 treatments since Oct. 3, the wife and mother of two autistic sons said she is impressed with Thomas’ dramatic improvement.

“Before, he only talked about movies and movie stars. He can carry on a conversation without that now,” said Arms. Her 7-year-old son, Logan, has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. With two autistic children at home it’s quite common for them to get frustrated with each other.

“A week and a half into the treatments and we heard them sitting down having a conversation! And they’ve never had a conversation without fussing or picking at each other,” Arms said.

“When I ask Thomas to take out the garbage and stuff like that — Thomas is the gentle giant — he’ll do anything. But he’ll mumble to himself even though he’s getting up and doing it. Well, he doesn’t mumble anymore! The frustration is not there like it used to be.”

Although Thomas is the only one taking HBOT, Arms said she had witnessed both sons enjoying a calmer, closer relationship — even laughing together recently.

“I have never seen that!” she insists. “Because it always ends up in a fight. Now Thomas is more insightful, more aware of cause and effect, and he’s excited about coming for his treatments.”

Tracy Senters, a CNA, phlebotomy and HBOT technician at the center, has assisted Thomas from his first treatment to the present.

“What I’ve noticed significantly is his taking more initiative and expressing more of his feelings than at the beginning,” Senters said. “He carries on conversations with me and he looks me in my eyes. That’s a big deal to me.”

Clinic Manager Myriam Diaz Rutland agreed, adding, “I’ve noticed the social improvements. When he first came to the clinic Thomas wouldn’t make eye contact and would look down frequently.

“If he spoke it was soft and sometimes mumbled. Now he’s the first one to greet me in the mornings and is oftentimes the first one to start a conversation. As per his teachers in school, they’re seeing more focus and cognitive improvements.”

Arms, who describes herself as “elated” at her son’s improvement, confessed, “For us moms of autistic kids — any minor thing the majority of people have ever looked at and thought it was normal — they’re huge battles for us.

“If you only knew where we came from to where we are now — these are huge, huge battles for us. I want Thomas to be all he can be. I want him to have every opportunity that can benefit him. As a mom I have to do that.

“These (Thomas and Logan) are my gifts from heaven. I may not have chosen this, but I was chosen. I take that seriously. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the betterment of those boys.”

According to Alvin Word, president and CEO of Hyperbaric Services of East Tennessee, hyperbaric oxygen therapy forces more oxygen into the tissue, encouraging the formation of new blood vessels.

“As new blood vessels develop, the red blood cells start to flow, delivering even more oxygen to the affected area which creates the optimal environment for the body’s natural healing processes to repair damaged tissue,” he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat more than a dozen health problems such as decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, brain abscess and injuries in which tissues are not getting enough oxygen.

Dr. Atul M. Gupta, medical director at the center said for East Tennessee to have a facility providing these services of this magnitude is amazing.

“This is a novel therapy, in that more people today have access to it as never before,” Gupta explained. “The science has been around for decades. We’re just now learning about so many more applications that it has. Whereas before we thought it would only help with divers.

“Then we learned it has many practical applications with wound healing and cancer patients. We recently learned how much it helps with traumatic brain injury. We’ve learned just in the last five years that there are over 100 different conditions that this can help with. While the technology and science has been there, the research is just now catching up to how great a treatment this is.”

“We’re focusing on neurological problems, not just autism,” Word said. “Autism is a big one because it affects so many young kids as well as adults.”

“Things like autism, cerebral palsy, stroke patients, patients with migraines, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis — just to name a few,” Gupta added.

According to Word and Gupta, the treatment is no panacea, nor is it for everyone.

“If a person has a heart condition, their injection fraction has to meet certain standards so that the heart is not overloaded,” Word explained. “If they have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), you don’t want to put too much pressure on those lungs and cause a problem there.”

“It’s definitely not for everybody,” Gupta went on to say. “That’s why all these treatments are done under close medical guidance and clearance, and then under close medical supervision. You don’t need a referral from your doctor. That’s why I am there.

“We have a doctor there to oversee the entire facility. We go through a thorough screening process to see if hyperbaric is appropriate for that person or not.”

“I’ll be the first to tell you I would make no claims that this is a cure factor for any of the things we just talked about,” Word admits. “But at the same time I can honestly say, with the number of treatments and the discipline of the patient following through, they will achieve a higher quality of life and they will improve their quality of life.

“There will be significant improvement in any number of their motor skills and, in some cases, their verbalization, where they may have been nonverbal in the past.”

“What we’re trying to do is twofold,” Gupta said. “One, improve their level of functioning, and two, in doing so, improve their quality of life.”

“I know we’re going through the clinic but God is good,” Arms said. “This is only by His mercies. He gets the ultimate victory for this. I’m just so thankful to have this opportunity.”

Word said, “Being a man of faith, I assume my God was speaking to me, saying, ‘Alvin, it’s time. You’ve been blessed in so many ways. You need to provide this service to those who need it but can’t get it.’”

An appreciative McClain said, “There’s no place like this around here where you can go. Most hyperbaric places are for the wounds at hospitals. This place takes office visits. I had heard about it and researched it on the Internet. We have truly been blessed.”

Hyperbaric Services of East Tennessee is located at 3575 Keith St. N.W. Sweet Grass Court, suite 102.

For further information call 423-790-7751 or visit www.hbotn.com.