After undergoing radiation for a carcinoma on his vocal cords, Marvin Richardson started having difficulty breathing and speaking. He ultimately needed an emergency tracheostomy.
Marvin’s physician referred him to Regional One Health’s Wound Care Center, where he could be treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which sparks the body’s natural healing processes.
The unique treatment made an enormous difference for Marvin. His symptoms improved after just a couple weeks, and he was ultimately able to get back to work and normal activities.
When Marvin Richardson looks back at the past year, he doesn’t sugarcoat the tough times: a cancer diagnosis, breathing issues that required an emergency tracheostomy, and damage to his vocal cords that hampered his ability to speak.
But his take on the experience is far from downbeat. Instead, Marvin is grateful for the medical care he received and the reminder that life and health should never be taken for granted.
With the help of Regional One Health’s unique Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy program, Marvin is getting back to work, family and life. “I’m very appreciative of the doctors and nurses and everyone who cared for me. It was an experience I’ll never forget, because my life was on the line; my voice was on the line,” he said. “It allowed me to look at life from a new perspective. A lot of people think, ‘It won’t happen to me.’ Now, I’m grateful just to be getting back to normal.”
Marvin’s medical journey started in June 2020 when he went to his doctor about a mass in his throat. He was diagnosed with carcinoma on his vocal cords, and after an operation to remove the mass, he underwent radiation.
Afterwards Marvin had trouble speaking, a common side effect when the throat is treated with radiation. Then, around Thanksgiving, he found himself struggling to breathe.
Medication helped for a while, but after a couple weeks, “Everything came to a head,” he said. “I went to work, and I wasn’t there for more than a couple hours when I started having some real difficulty breathing. I went to see my doctor, and they recommended I go to the hospital.”
He ended up in intensive care after having an emergency tracheostomy to help him breathe. He didn’t return home until two days before Christmas.
After his tracheostomy, Marvin was introduced to Tony Alleman, MD, MPH and the team at our Wound Care Center. Dr. Alleman uses a state-of-the-art Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber to treat patients with high levels of oxygen under pressure, helping them generate new blood vessels and sparking the body’s own healing process.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a leading treatment for conditions including diabetic wounds, necrotizing infections, burns, traumatic wounds, crush injuries, compromised flaps or grafts from surgery, compartment syndromes and decompression sickness.
It is also highly effective at combatting the side effects of radiation treatment.
Dr. Alleman said radiation to the mouth and throat often causes significant damage to patient’s teeth and blood vessels. When blood vessels are damaged, wound healing is impaired, and the condition persists and worsens if not treated properly.
At the Wound Care Center, Marvin had 30 treatments in the multiplace hyperbaric chamber, which is the only one of its kind in Tennessee. “The way they explained it to me, it’s like a submarine going down in deep waters,” he said. “I had never experienced anything like it before. It feels like being on an airplane when the elevation makes your ears pop.”
Marvin had a tube placed in his ear to help him adjust to the pressure changes, but other than that, he said treatment was easy. “At first, it was a strange feeling for me,” he said. “But once I got the tube in my ear, it was like a Sunday ride in a 1972 Cadillac.”
If the treatment itself was relaxing, the results were nothing short of astonishing.
“When he first came in he was coughing quite a bit and having a lot of secretions from his tracheostomy, and he had to carry a bag to spit into constantly. I know it was difficult for him,” Dr. Alleman said. “Within two weeks, he wasn’t spitting, he was barely coughing, and the secretions improved. He was breathing rather normally through his tracheostomy. It was almost instantly an improvement in his quality of life.”
Marvin was also regaining his voice, which he said was “almost totally gone” prior to treatment. Soon, he no longer needed to carry the bag, and his voice continued to grow stronger each day. By March, he was able to start making plans for removal of the tracheostomy tube.
Today, Marvin is on his way to a full recovery. With the tracheostomy hole healing, he has been able to return to work and resume his normal activities…and talk about his experience.
“If it wasn’t for the chamber, I don’t know if I’d be speaking to you today,” Marvin says. “They were wonderful to me, and I really appreciate the time they took to look after me.”
He also appreciates what he once just considered normal: talking to family and friends, working, enjoying his grandchildren. “It’s given me a real appreciation for life. I’ve got grandkids, and I’ve got people who count on me,” he said. “In my eyes I’m still pretty young – I’m 54 years old – and I’m thankful that I was able to go through this experience and get back to normal.”