After arduous treatment for breast cancer, the last thing Dona Dyer wanted was to see another doctor – but when her surgical incision wouldn’t heal, she was referred to Regional One Health’s Wound Care Center for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
It turned out to be a blessing for Dona. Not only did she receive the medical care she needed to heal, she met a team of providers who lifted her spirits.
Now, Dona is cancer free and back to doing the things she loves, like attending church and helping family and friends.
When Dona Dyer’s doctor referred her to Regional One Health for hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat a stubborn wound, it was the last thing she wanted to hear.
Dona, 79, had endured three rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove her breast and lymph nodes, and six weeks of grueling radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2021. The thought of adding one more doctor appointment to that list was devastating.
“I had been to so many doctors, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want to go to another doctor,’” Dona said. “I’d already been through so much.”
What’s more, she would have to travel from her home in Mississippi to Regional One Health’s Wound Care Center – over 60 miles roundtrip – five days a week for six weeks to complete hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment she had never even heard of before.
Despite her uncertainty, Dona approached the next step in her medical journey the same way she had her cancer diagnosis – with faith, a sense of humor, and determination.
Wound Care Center Medical Director Tony Alleman, MD said hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help with a wide range of conditions: “In many cases it offers a patient their best or only chance at recovery.”
“You’ve just got to pray every day and keep going,” she said. “The best thing you can do is get up in the morning and thank the Lord for a brand-new day. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m stronger than this, and I’m not going to let cancer take over my life.”
If that meant seeing yet another doctor, that’s what Dona would do. And as soon as she met the Wound Care Center team, she knew she’d made the right decision.
“Everybody there is genuinely special,” Dona said. “They always have smiles on their faces, and they’re there for you; they listen to you. That’s the best part of it.”
Tony Alleman, MD, Wound Care Center medical director, told Dona her wound occurred when her surgical incision split open due to skin and tissue damage caused by radiation.
He also explained how hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber could help. Patients are exposed to 100 percent oxygen under pressure, which helps build new blood vessels that deliver oxygenated blood to damaged tissue, sparking the body’s own healing process.
It is highly effective for wounds and conditions that have failed to respond to other treatments, including radiation wounds like Dona’s, diabetic wounds, crush injuries, burns and more. “It’s a wonderful treatment for a very diverse group of conditions,” Dr. Alleman said. “In many cases it offers a patient their best or only chance at recovery.”
For Dona, her introduction to the chamber felt like something out of a science fiction story.
Dona said the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber “looked like a big blue submarine.” Once she got used to the treatment, she found it relaxing and was even able to sleep a couple times.
“It looked like a big blue submarine with portholes in it,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect, so I did whatever they said to do. We went inside, and for the first 15 minutes it gets really warm, and you have a hard time popping your ears. They put a round device around your neck to keep air from seeping out, and a big bubble on top of your head like an astronaut.”
“I thought, ‘Lord, what have I gotten myself into?’”
But as her treatments continued, Dona was able to relax. There was nothing painful about the treatment, and she could sit or lie down, watch TV or read during the two-hour sessions. Once or twice, she even fell asleep.
As for the helmet, after her treatment was over, Dona got to take it home with her. She lets her grandkids pretend they are astronauts headed to outer space.
It’s just one example of the warmth she was treated with by her Wound Care Center team.
Dr. Alleman gave her plenty of time to ask questions, responding with a reassuring demeanor that Dona always appreciated. “He has a real calm personality,” she said. “I just love him. I love that he wears a different tie every day!”
Dona recently celebrated her birthday healthy and cancer-free, and she’s grateful to the Wound Care Center: “Everyone there is genuinely special,” she said. “They always have a smile.”
Everyone was positive, helpful and genuinely interested in getting to know her not just as a patient, but a person. She even discovered one of her providers had gone to paramedic school with her granddaughter: “We’ve become good friends!” Dona said.
And as her wound closed and she received the exciting news that she was cancer-free, she was able to get back to the things she loves. “I’m doing a lot better. I’m doing the things I was doing before all of this,” Dona said. “I can go to church. I can clean my house and help my daughter with hers. I’m able to help others, and that’s what I love to do – just helping people out.”
She says that’s exactly what the Wound Care Center team did for her.
“If it wasn’t for them, I might not be where I am now. You just have to put it in God’s hands and not give up, because you’ve got people like the people at the Wound Care Center,” she said. “It’s not just the hyperbaric therapy that does it. It’s the feeling you get when you’re there – it’s how they treat you and how they make you feel.”