Near-drowning victims are breathing hope with hyperbaric oxygen therapy
(WVUE) - A local doctor is working to improve the quality of life for some patients literally brought back from the brink of death.
Dr. Paul Harch isn't using a wonder drug - it's just oxygen. He's a specialist in hyperbaric medicine, a specialty some still see as "alternative."
Retired Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Sean Locklear and his family are living in Louisiana for several weeks for something bigger than any football game he's ever played.
"You ready to go in the chamber dude," said Locklear.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help his son, Zane, after a near drowning.
"Let me stretch you out a bit before you go in there," Locklear said to his son.
Dr. Harch sees patients with chronic neurological conditions out of his small clinic in Marrero.
"Generally it's used as a treatment for wounds any place on the body and for any duration. So brain wounds, leg wounds, wounds on internal organs, new wounds, old wounds, it doesn't matter.
Near drowning victims from 40 countries and their families stay in the New Orleans area for treatment for weeks at a time.
"You lay in the chamber and it's usually pretty passive," Dr. Harch said. "We close the door, increase the pressure and oxygen and people take a nap or watch TV and rest and meditate some."
Dr. Harch said the main effect of the treatment is to repair wounds and to stimulate tissue growth and that tissue growth has an effect on genes.
"We drove down here from Seattle to come here," Locklear said. "There's no way I would have driven if I didn't think it would help my son."
Locklear played for the Seahawks until he retired in 2013, and then turned his full attention to his growing family. He and his wife Tiffany had moved back to Charlotte in his home state of North Carolina. They had a baby on the way and Zane was almost two.
"He could sit down at one year old and watch TV. He could control his own IPad and swipe it. He could find Mickey Mouse and watch it," Locklear said with pride about what his son could once do.
Locklear's parents took Zane home with them to Lumberton, North Carolina one weekend, while Tiffany and Sean got ready for the new baby. Monday, January 26th of 2014, Sean got a call from his brother.
"He said you need to come, Zane fell in the pool."
Sean and his wife were two hours away. Forty-five minutes into the drive they were told emergency responders got a pulse. They didn't know how long the child had been in the pool.
"I walked into the room and when I saw him, I said that is not the son that left my house in the back of the car," he said.
The child was in ICU for a week and Locklear says doctors told them after the sixth day they may have to pull the plug.
Dr. Harch has heard it before.
"People are giving prematurely very negative outcomes we call it the list of never ever your child will never sit up, talk, eat and do a variety of things."
Eden Carlson of Arkansas drowned in February of 2016 and was revived after almost two hours without a heartbeat. Doctors told her parents she would never eat, walk, or talk again. After a couple of months, the family heard about Dr. Harch and brought Eden to Marrero for treatments.
Eden's parents documented her progress on video. After two Hyperbaric treatments, she remembered how to count. By June 7th she was playing catch. She took her first assisted steps on July 2nd.
She had been at the clinic for eight weeks and was breathing pure oxygen for one hour a day.
"So it's a flow-through. A constant flowing through of 300 quarts of oxygen per minute," Dr. Harch said. "In a minute the average person breathes between six to 10 quarts of air..and we're flooding them with a lot."
Sean Locklear and his wife heard of Dr. Harch through Eden's story. They actually met the child's Eden's father. Patients from 40 countries are treated at Dr. Harch's clinic.
"We didn't put this out there proclaiming we could make these kids better and give false hope to people. It was by treating them and letting the families talk about it."
Dr. Harch began his work in Hyperbarics in the 80's in New Orleans. He stumbled upon a breakthrough while treating divers.
When we come up too fast you form bubbles in your veins," he said.
"Divers can end up with a neurological injury. We could treat them days, weeks months later if we used a lower dose of Hyperbaric oxygen and that was the discovery," he said.
"He applied the same theories to others with brain injuries, hoping to get results from a form of medicine that is still not recognized by insurance companies. He was fighting to make life better for kids like Zane.
"In four weeks he got that much head control and alertness, that he sat up," Locklear said.
For Locklear that was a touchdown.
"There have been lots of touchdowns, in the beginning, there was no hope. As long as he's progressing I know he's there," he said.
Dr. Harch says Zane's eye movements are better and he's tracking people's voices and looking at people.
"Every day my wife and I give thanks for our health because what you see here is some severe injury," he said with tears in his eyes. "You have no idea the lives many of these families live."
As for Zane and other patients like him, Harch says there are no guarantees.
"If we get to the end of this and he's no different by video or by parents evaluations I tell the family this is not going to work or the dose is not right. They won't respond move on to another therapy. If he does improve it's just the beginning and they can have higher gains."
Sean Locklear is hopeful.
"You know, When God made man he blew oxygen into his nostrils. That's as simple as I can put it. That's as simple as it needs to be.
Treatments cost about 8,000 dollars for eight weeks. Most patients raise the money through fundraisers
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