Tracy Overcomes Irreversible Radiation
Side Effects Through Hyperbaric Medicine
by Bill Ligas | Sep 15, 2015
Chicagoan Tracy had always lived a very healthy life. Eating an organic diet, exercising regularly and seeing her doctor annually, she never imagined she would be diagnosed with cancer. But after multiple doctors' visits and unexplained Pap test results, Tracy was diagnosed with Stage Two vaginal cancer.
Following several surgeries in 2012 and numerous radiation treatments, Tracy lived daily with aggressive post-radiation side effects. She was concerned about her slow recovery, and her inability to regain energy, strength and momentum. Unsure of where to turn, she began doing her own research. That’s where she found Swedish Covenant Hospital physician, Dr. Claude Zanetti, who is board-certified in pulmonary disease, internal medicine, critical medicine and hyperbaric medicine.
“By the time I met Dr. Zanetti, I was living a life that included very little control over my body and the radiation side effects,” Tracy said. “Multiple sessions of radiation left my body irreversibly damaged.”
In January 2015, Tracy called Debbie Schur-Garcia, a hyperbaric technician at Swedish Covenant Hospital. Within a couple of days, Tracy was scheduled to meet with Dr. Zanetti for an extensive appointment. “Debbie and Dr. Zanetti were both very upbeat; they demonstrated care, empathy and encouraged me,” Tracy recalled.
Dr. Zanetti took time to get to know her and understand her medical history. That same day, she had her first hyperbaric treatment. Hyperbaric medicine delivers super pressurized amounts of pure oxygen to the body to treat wounds, pain, infections and other conditions. Worried about the cost of the treatment, Tracy admitted the financial battles of cancer were overwhelming.
“Let’s just get you better,” Dr. Zanetti told her. “We can discuss financial issues later and we’ll work with you to offer the best plan.”
Tracy said that after her first few treatments with Dr. Zanetti, she felt better. The treatments quickly increased her appetite and energy level. “After the first session I began to feel physical relief. I was battling so much physically and mentally. Emotionally I was more focused and balanced,” said Tracy.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. You have to go through a long process to understand what the patient truly needs,” added Dr. Zanetti. “This treatment is very specialized, and
it’s not always taught in medical school.”
Tracy has come to truly appreciate Dr. Zanetti’s perspective. “At Swedish Covenant Hospital, they differentiate patients; they look at the whole picture,” she says. “Dr. Zanetti offers a holistic approach to medicine and healing. He is thoroughly committed to my very best outcome. He examines which type of treatment you are going to need down the road after chemotherapy and radiation.”
Dr. Zanetti works specifically with critically-ill patients, particularly those who have faced a long battle with cancer. Dr. Zanetti emphasized that to some patients like Tracy, hyperbaric treatment may seem like an alternative approach, however the use of hyperbaric oxygen for reversing many of radiation’s devastating effects on cancer survivors is based on solid evidence and covered by most insurance plans. For instance, chronic pain, bleeding and pelvic insufficiency fractures that may follow radiation treatment for pelvic tumors are often resolved completely with hyperbaric therapy which is the only treatment that can reverse the radiation-induced damage to the small blood vessels of tissues in the radiation field. A typical course of therapy is 30 daily treatments with maximum benefits sometimes occurring with up to 60 treatments depending on individual response.
Between January and March 2015, Tracy had a total of 36 hyperbaric treatments lasting two hours each. She is feeling better and continues to see her regular oncologist every six months. “I have healed a lot internally because of the hyperbaric treatments,” Tracy said. “I’m more active, stronger, and feeling more whole as an individual.”
She has since returned to two of her passions, teaching and flying lessons. “Prior to my illness I had a hang-gliding license. I hope to pick that up again sometime soon,” she added.
Dr. Zanetti has offered Tracy the option to return for additional hyperbaric treatments if she thinks they are necessary. She knows that recovering from cancer can be a long journey but considers Dr. Zanetti her “superhero.”
“He’s supportive and knows what I need—just like family,” she says. “He’s emotionally invested in his patients.”
Claude Zanetti, M.D., is board-certified in critical care, hyperbaric medicine, internal medicine and pulmonary diseases. His specialties include critical care, hyperbaric medicine and pulmonary disease. He has over 35 years of experience.
For more information on hyperbaric medicine, please contact Debbie Schur-Garcia, hyperbaric technician, at 773-293-1209 or via email at Dgarcia@SwedishCovenant.org.