High-Tech Hyperbaric Treatment Chamber Unveiled

Murray, Utah (10/14/2008 ) — After months of preparation, fine-tuning and testing, the new hyperbaric oxygen chamber is open at Intermountain Medical Center.

The chamber, one of the most sophisticated in the country, has been years in the making. In fact, because of its size, the massive, 25-ton unit was put in place before the walls even went up at the nearly one-year-old Intermountain Medical Center.

It is a state-of-the art unit – unique in the region – that allows patients to move about inside. Manufactured in Australia, it was among the first of its kind to be delivered to the United States.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is best known for its use in treating scuba divers suffering from "the bends," but it is also an important tool in treating troublesome wounds or infections, radiation-damaged tissues and carbon monoxide poisoning.

The timing couldn't be better as temperatures are starting to fall and Utahns are turning on their furnaces for the first time of the year. Each year more than 40,000 Americans – including over 400 Utahns – are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide has been dubbed the silent killer since it is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. Many poisonings result from faulty furnaces. This has resulted in a greater need for hyperbaric therapy.

Normally, the air we breathe contains only 21 percent oxygen. During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a patient breathes 100 percent oxygen in an environment where the air pressure is two to three times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level. This dissolves more oxygen in the bloodstream, sending it to every part of the body, stimulating blood vessel growth and enhancing the immune system's ability to fight infection.

Most patients are treated in a "monoplace chamber," a clear cylindrical unit that can accommodate only one person at a time. The new unit at Intermountain Medical Center is a "multiplace" chamber that can hold up to eight patients and several staff members at a time.

Other unique features of the chamber

  • The new chamber is one of the most unique in the world. It features hypobaric capabilities that will allow for significant research opportunities and high altitude training. It has both hypo- and hyperbaric capabilities, meaning the air pressure can be changed to simulate conditions at altitudes of 30,000 feet – higher than Mount Everest – for conducting research; or up to 99 feet below sea level for treating patients.
  • It is one of only a few rectangular units in the United States. The shape allows patients and staff to feel they are in a regular room – a more comfortable setting for some people.
  • There are two rooms that can be pressurized separately. This feature allows medical staff and equipment to move safely from an un-pressurized environment into the main treatment room.
  • Sophisticated computer controlled operation and monitoring systems.
  • Flexible options for sometimes-long treatment sessions. Patients can sit, lie down or stretch their legs; watch a movie, listen to music, read a book, or do a crossword puzzle. They can even have a snack – an important feature for diabetic patients.

Intermountain Medical Center's Hyperbaric Department will operate at two locations: Intermountain Medical Center, which has both the new multi-place chamber and a monoplace unit; and LDS hospital, which will continue to provide treatments in several monoplace chambers. Only a few hyperbaric departments in the country run both types of chambers.

The chamber, one of the most sophisticated in the country, has been years in the making.