COURTESY FRANK FARM JR. / HYPERBARIC TREATMENT CENTER
The central chamber of the Hawaii Hyperbaric Treatment Center, which celebrates its 25th anniversary tomorrow, can treat up to five people at a time.
Hyperbaric Center likes the pressure
Hawaii's Hyperbaric Treatment Center is celebrating 25 years of service to divers with decompression illness and patients with other medical conditions.
The Hyperbaric Treatment Center at Kuakini Medical Center is holding an open house today from 1 to 4 p.m.
Five longtime employees will be honored: Frank Farm Jr., center director, and Denise Starkus, administrative assistant, both with 25 years of service; Jennifer Bains, insurance coordinator, 20 years; Dr. Teresa David, one of the medical officers, and Cynthia Dollar, a senior care provider, both 10 years.
Since the John A. Burns School of Medicine took over the center in April 1983 from the Navy, it has treated more than 1,400 scuba divers for the "bends" and about 700 people with other medical disorders.
Referrals from doctors have increased with the center's efforts to increase understanding about hyperbaric medicine, said Dr. Richard Smerz, the center's medical director.
Yet the facility could do more, he said. "This city could generate more referrals for some of the things we treat here," he said, such as radiation-related injuries and healing for wounds.
Smerz said the team sees an average of five to 10 patients a day for medical conditions other than diving accidents.
Medicare reimburses hyperbaric treatment for such conditions as necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria), carbon monoxide poisoning, acute traumatic peripheral ischemia (in strokes), gas gangrene, skin grafts, radiation injury weakening from certain cancer treatments and nonhealing wounds from surgery or diabetes.
They are among disorders approved by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society for treatments using high concentrations of oxygen.
One of the society's founders was the late Dr. Ed Beckman, first medical director of the hyperbaric facility in Hawaii, Smerz noted.
The Navy treated civilian divers when it operated the chamber before 1983, but about that time it suggested the state look at having its own system, he said.
The facility started at Kewalo Basin with Beckman, a few people at the University of Hawaii medical school, the Hawaii Council of Dive Clubs, the Fire Department, Navy and others, Smerz said. "It was something like a country fire station initially," he said.
It moved to its present location at Kuakini Medical Center in 1995 with construction of a new chamber system. It is one of only about 60 accredited hyperbaric facilities in the nation, and it is available around the clock, said Frank Farm Jr., the center director.
Other facts: It is the nation's second-busiest facility for dive accidents, with about 80 Isle divers per year suffering near drowning or decompression illness. Complete recovery is achieved in 93 percent of cases -- 20 percent better than the national average.
The hyperbaric chamber can accommodate five people at one time, but the center usually keeps it to four, Smerz said.
A diving accident requires about six hours of decompression, he said. Other conditions involve from 2 to 3 1/2 hours in the chamber, he said.