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story.lead_photo.caption Mike Forhner (left) looks at his watch and a mirror about his head as he lays in a hyperbaric chamber with his son, Josh Forhner, Dec. 18 in Springdale at the Immanual Clinic. - Photo by Spencer Tirey

SPRINGDALE -- Hyperbaric oxygen treatment was once thought of only to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers. The procedure today is used to treat a multitude of issues like infection, air bubbles in the bloodstream and some neurological issues like strokes or head trauma.

Josh Fohner falls into the latter category. The 28-year-old Springdale native was seriously injured in a near-fatal cycling accident in 2016 and suffered traumatic brain injuries. Since November, he has undergone hyperbaric oxygen treatments at the Immanuel Clinic in Springdale five days a week for one-hour sessions.

"When you're in there, you are getting roughly 20 times as much oxygen in the entire body as you do breathing regular air," said Dr. Jeff Baker, who owns the Immanuel Clinic.

The oxygen saturates the plasma, which is the clear part of the blood. Normally red blood cells have 99 percent saturation. The hyperbaric chamber triples the amount of oxygen in red blood cells, which is then carried through the body and helps repair damaged tissue, he said.

"That tissue is in limbo," Baker said. "It's not dead yet. It's damaged enough that with some rehab, the body could heal it. But it needs oxygen, particularly in the brain. Oxygen is critical for healing. So if you can get more oxygen into that tissue, you have a chance for the brain to start healing."

Dr. Kathy Krantz has been Fohner's primary care doctor since he returned to Northwest Arkansas in May. She said he has shown remarkable improvement over the eight months she has cared for him, but she did not specifically credit the hyperbaric treatments.

"I don't have enough experience with that to give an educated answer as to what I believe would be a benefit," Krantz said. "I can tell you that dad believes that there has been a benefit to that," she added, referring to Mike Fohner.

His father has to be inside the hyperbaric chamber with Josh during his treatments to monitor his heart rate. Mike Fohner said the family chose to try this treatment after researching the possible benefits.

"When you're on a journey like this, you'll have a lot of folks step up and send you information," he said. "This was not something that was a part of the VA protocol. They did not have hyperbaric chambers available at those hospitals."

Mike Fohner said they met a Springdale family whose family member had also suffered a traumatic brain injury. The family believed the hyperbaric chamber treatment she received helped her recovery. Wounded Warriors has also helped veterans who have been blast victims use the treatments in their recovery, he said.

Baker said he has seen progress in Josh Fohner's recovery since starting the treatments.

[Family is all in for Josh]

"I've seen people almost totally recover their lost function. Other folks will improve enough to improve their quality of life," he said.

In Josh Fohner's case, he could recognize what was going on around him, but his ability to communicate was poor, Baker said.

"You can imagine that is terribly frustrating," Baker said. "So if he's able to move his eyes around, move his hands and feet a little bit more to signal what's happening, be able to take in what's happening and to be able to communicate better, that is our first goal and he's making good strides in that department."

Sports on 12/24/2017

Print Headline: Hyperbaric treatment can prove beneficial in some cases

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