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St Lucia Hyperbaric Center

BACKGROUND

The traditional use of a hyperbaric facility or recompression chamber, as it is commonly known in the dive fraternity, is the treatment of dive accidents, when divers exceed the limits and body tissues become oversaturated, with nitrogen an inert gas which forms bubbles in the blood stream upon dangerously fast return to the surface. In severe cases, this condition, decompression sickness or “The Bends”, can cause paralysis and even death if not treated immediately. The chamber, which is basically a pressure vessel, works by gradually increasing then decreasing air pressure around the body, thereby allowing the bubbles to  re-dissolve and the diver to breathe off excessive nitrogen levels under controlled conditions.
When planning a dive vacation many individuals choose their destination based on the availability of a hyperbaric facility. Unfortunately, in the past, dive accidents had to be treated in Barbados or Martinique, which complicated the situation due to the time and effort needed for overseas transportation and associated additional health risks due to lower air pressure at altitude, putting St. Lucia at a disadvantage in the development of this lucrative tourism sub sector.
Additionally, because of over-harvesting, conch divers have to go deeper and deeper to find this highly sought after seafood. Conch divers often lack formal dive training, hence symptoms of the bends are often ignored and quite a number of these fishers suffer severe health consequences, because overseas treatment cannot be afforded.
 
HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY

Recently, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has become an emerging medical specialty whose scientific basis, while supported by over 6,000 studies, continues to be explored.
With HBOT one breathes 100% oxygen at pressures (baric) greater (hyper) than sea level atmospheric pressure, which enhances the body’s natural-healing process virtually risk free. HBOT is a medical treatment that helps the body heal itself by making oxygen available to body tissues , or organs, that because of illness or trauma are not receiving an adequate supply.
Therapeutically, HBOT has a positive effect on the central nervous system (the brain); it reduces swelling, repairs the blood-brain barrier, and stabilizes cell membranes. It increases the ability of white blood cells to clean up damaged areas, and ultimately create a whole new supply of blood vessels via angiogenesis. Much of the damage associated with injured tissue occurs when blood supply comes back into the injured area – white blood cells (the soldiers of the immune system) activate inappropriately – HBOT reduces this injury by preventing such activation. Also, if the damaged tissue is the brain, for example, HBOT can be used immediately to deliver the necessary oxygen the tissues require to stay alive, control the damage and promote healing.

The donors have expressed their wish that no patient shall be turned away because of lacking funds. Furthermore, based on the other experiences in the region, it is going to be difficult for the SLHS to cover the operational costs of the chamber on its own. Hence, government subventions need to be sought as well as contributions from the tourism sector towards the operations of the facility on an ongoing basis, e.g. a chamber fee added to the existing SMMA dive permit charges. Corporate sponsorship will have to be sought and other fundraising events need to be planned to ensure the long-term sustainability of the valuable facility.
There will be an annual Hyperbaric Chamber Day and regular guided tours of the chamber for school children and other interested persons to raise general awareness and support for the chamber.
Nonetheless, if at one point in the future surplus should be generated, it is envisioned to utilize it for the marketing of the dive sector, coral conservation projects (e.g. sinking of wrecks as artificial reefs) and medical charities.

MISSION

Overall, the mission of the SLHS is to provide state-of-the-art Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) services to the residents and tourist population of Saint. Lucia and the region, on an emergent, elective, and long term care basis. By providing these services, a higher standard of care will be enjoyed by all residents.
At the same time, Saint Lucia will be a more competitive tourist destination for the rapidly growing, safety conscious, sport diving market.

Today, HBOT is approved for use in air embolism, blood loss, bone infections, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning (smoke inhalation), crush injuries, skin grafts, gangrene, soft tissue infections, intracranial abscess, non-healing wounds, radiation tissue damage, and decompression sickness.
Other conditions that show evidence of HBOT value as a treatment include: stroke ( cerebrovascular accident), head injury (cerebral edema/coma), cerebral palsy, bone-fracture, acute retinal artery occlusion, migraine & cluster headaches, chronic fatigue- syndrome (CFS), sports injuries, AIDS, sickle cell anaemia crisis, acute spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lyme disease, diabetic retinopathy, colitis, diabetic foot ulcers, and plastic/reconstructive surgery ( preparation and recovery). While these condition are considered off-label indications for HBOT, there is stronger scientific evidence for a number of these indications than there is for almost half of all the approved indications, nevertheless, because these conditions are off-label, by law no claims can be made in the US.  Saint Lucia has high rates of diabetes and sickle cell disease, underlining the importance of the facility to the country.
There may also be opportunities to promote “Medical Tourism”, combining HBOT seminars or treatments with a holiday in Saint Lucia.

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