Intensive wound-care treatment helps save woman’s COVID-19-damaged hands and feet

When she arrived for an appointment with a Norton Louisville Arm & Hand surgeon, providers quickly took her to the Norton Wound Healing Center.

Norton Wound Healing Center – Brownsboro’s oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber recently helped save the fingers and toes of a woman whose blood vessels were damaged by COVID-19.

The chamber typically is used to help cancer patients’ blood vessels heal after radiation treatment.

When the patient arrived at the Norton Brownsboro Hospital campus for an appointment with a Norton Louisville Arm & Hand surgeon, providers quickly recognized she was in pain and several fingertips already were damaged severely from lack of oxygen. She was taken to the Norton Wound Healing Center immediately.

“She had a lot of places on the bottom of her feet that were as bad as her hands were,” said J. Neal Sharpe, M.D., a surgeon and medical director of Norton Wound Healing Center. “We were able to stop that. I think her feet would have gotten as bad as her hands were. I don’t think she will need any surgery on her toes and feet.”

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Norton Wound Healing Center – Audubon and Norton Wound Healing Center – Brownsboro are among only a few hyperbaric oxygen and wound treatment programs available in the region. Our care teams diagnose and treat difficult-to-heal wounds.

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The patient still will need hand surgery on some of her fingertips.

Saving her feet — and preventing further damage to her hands — required twice-a-day treatments of pure oxygen for 15 consecutive days at Norton Wound Healing Center – Brownsboro. Nurses Anissa Rivera and Deborah Christian cared for the patient throughout the stretch, working two weekends including Mother’s Day.

“We did it because we want our patients to get better,” Anissa said. “We think of them as family.”

A hyperbaric chamber increases oxygen in blood moving through the body. A patient lies down in the clear chamber and receives 100% oxygen for 2½ hours under pressure. The air we breathe normally is 21% oxygen. The pressure in a hyperbaric chamber is the same as being 33 feet underwater.

The patient had been treated at Norton Audubon Hospital for COVID-19. Once she stabilized, she returned home. Then, the virus began attacking her hands and feet.

Inflammation from the body’s response to the virus often affects the airways and makes it hard for patients with COVID-19 to breathe. It also can cause heart, liver or kidney problems. In this patient’s case, the inflammation caused small blood vessels in her hands and feet to swell and close off, threatening to starve nearby tissue of oxygen.

According to Anissa, at the end of the two weeks, the patient’s spirits were better, her pain had lessened and the damage had been limited to several fingertips.

“I felt good about what we did for her,” Anissa said.

The patient was so grateful that she presented each of the nurses with a bouquet.

“She brought us flowers, and her family gave us a little card telling us how appreciative they were and how they could tell we love what we do. That made me cry,” Anissa said.

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