There are wounds that heal quickly and successfully, and then there are others that linger for months and years, creating long-term discomfort and inconvenience. These latter kinds require a special kind of treatment, and fortunately for residents of Whatcom County, there’s a place dedicated precisely to their remediation.
Established in 2009, the Wound Healing Center at PeaceHealth St Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham is an outpatient clinic that sees up to 35 patients a day. It boasts five treatment rooms, two Hyperbaric Oxygen chambers and a part time panel of physicians, ranging in expertise from general surgery to emergency medicine, infectious disease and orthopedic surgery.
The center specializes in healing advanced wounds that have not healed in 30 days or more and treatment turnaround can be as quick as a few weeks.
“About 40 percent of our chronic wounds come from diabetics who have neuropathy in their feet and cannot sense repeated pressure trauma, for example from poor footwear,” said Dr. Orville Vandergriend, medical director of the center.
Never miss a local story.
Another 40 percent of chronic wounds come from valvular failure as a result of too much pressure in leg veins, a condition associated with heredity, pregnancy, chronic standing and obesity. The last 20 percent of wounds seen at the center are derived from bed sores, trauma and poor arterial flow.
A trauma often refuses to heal normally when there’s insufficient oxygen to an area, Vandergriend explained. Instead, the ulcer becomes stalled and the wound suffers from bacterial overload.
Our facility is state of the art, and with our high healing rates we routinely receive recognition.
Dr. Orville Vandergriend, medical director of the Wound Healing Center
“Our first battle as providers is to win the bacterial overgrowth situation,” Vandergriend said. “We scrape off the biofilm and apply substances to kill any remaining bacteria.”
Recent studies have shown that the overgrowth will recur in less than a week, so the process must be repeated weekly.
At the same time the wound center team tries to find the cause of the ischemic stalled ulcer.
“When we understand the cause, appropriate measures are recommended to eliminate more of the same problems,” Vandergriend said.
When none of the recommended measures remedies the oxygen depletion problem, the team resorts to HBO therapy in approved and tested situations.
Patients undergoing this therapy enter a Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber that increases oxygen content in their blood stream, which helps generate new blood vessels to promote healing.
“Most of the patients undergo this therapy as a result of the late effects of radiation for cancer; marginal blood supply to the feet of diabetic patients even after all arterial re-vascular attempts have been completed; and for surgeries that have failed once because of poor blood flow we can treat before and after the next surgical attempt,” Vandergriend said.
Christopher Nichols, program director, noted that the Wound Center’s healing rate is 93 to 95 percent. Of the 10 percent of patients who benefit from HBO therapy, the healing rate is between 80 and 100 percent.
Whatcom County is fortunate to have the Wound Center on the Peace Health St. Joseph Medical campus, said Vandergriend.
“Our facility is state of the art, and with our high healing rates we routinely receive recognition,” he said.
In February 2016 it was named a Center of Distinction by Healogics, the nation’s largest provider of advanced wound care services.
Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center
Address: 4280 Meridian St., Suite 110, Bellingham