It’s carbon monoxide season: Memorial offers only 24/7 hyperbaric chamber in Colorado

More than a dozen patients treated at Memorial Hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning
Jan. 20, 2016

Memorial Hospital’s team of Hyperbaric Oxygen clinicians has treated more than a dozen patients since Christmas for carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s a life-changing treatment for patients poisoned by the odorless gas.

As providers in the only 24/7/365 Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) therapy facility in Colorado, Memorial Hospital’s team of five nurses and a medical technician, led by Medical Director Dr. Robert Price, work around the clock to improve patient outcomes.

An oxygen chamber used to help patients recover from a myriad of maladies is delivered to Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in Colorado with 24/7 Hyperbaric Oxygen medicine.

“Our patients truly benefit from this treatment,’’ said Myra Parker, RN, MSN, who manages Memorial’s staffing office, HBO, Inpatient Wound Care and the Wound Healing Center. “The team in HBO is an amazing group – they come together and pull through for the patient’s sake.’’

Staffing a 24-7 operation, nurses Mark Villanueva, Susan Ridge, Sheila DeHerrera, Melissa Kelly, Melissa Shashok and tech Nancy Devore are often on-call during the wee hours of the morning and on weekends.

“They band together to make it work,’’ Parker said.

Patients recently treated at Memorial suffered carbon monoxide poisoning because of malfunctioning furnaces in their residences.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and/or loss of consciousness. This type of poisoning may cause irreversible brain damage or death.

Treatment for carbon monoxide therapy in an adult is generally three, 120-minute sessions in the chamber, Parker said. Treatments vary depending upon a person’s age, physical condition and whether a woman is pregnant. HBO provides a patient with 100 percent pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, and that helps eliminate toxic substances in the blood and reduces the effects of the toxins.

Memorial Hospital recently replaced two of its chambers with newer models to ensure quality and safety for patients. Memorial’s program is certified by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.

Nurse Mark Villanueva said this is the busy time of the year for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Everyone here is pulling together to do what they can, where they can for the patient,’’ Villanueva said. “We staff according to need and we are the only facility in Colorado that provides care on a 24-7 basis. People are coming in and stepping up when they have to. It’s what we do.’’

Susan Ridge, who works in the HBO, said working smoke/CO detectors should be in every residence. She knows – a detector saved her life.

“I cannot stress enough that a beeping CO monitor is most likely not defective.  It only takes a call to the local fire department to have your house checked for CO after the alarm sounds,’’ she said. “I did that three years ago after being awakened by my CO detector. The fire department checked our house and found that our old furnace was putting out CO.  We now have a new furnace and a CO/smoke alarm waiting to do its job of alerting the household to danger.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.