By Catie Staszak for Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida
Dr. Byron Reid will forever remember the construction of his equine hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Loxahatchee, FL.
After all, it took a flatbed trailer with two massive cranes just to get it inside—that, and the fact that the roof of the building could not be constructed until after the chamber was installed.
“It would take two bulldozers to knock it over,” said Reid, VMD. “But it also has a three-foot-thick slab of concrete under it. It requires a very stable base.”
Reid truly moved mountains to bring hyperbaric oxygen therapy to his facility, and the Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida is home to the only chamber in the region, located just down the road from the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World that is Wellington. Used in human medicine for more than a century, hyperbaric oxygen is a rather novel concept in equine medicine, but it has proven itself as a low-risk method of decreasing recovery time from a variety of injuries and diseases. The chamber at Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida is FDA approved and one of the largest equine chambers manufactured.
“There are a few in Kentucky, one in Maryland, and there’s one at the University of Tennessee, but I’m pretty sure we have the only chamber like this in Florida,” Reid said. “These are pretty rare, and obviously it’s quite an undertaking to install one.”
Reid was first introduced to the concept of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a form of treatment for horses by his colleague, Meg Miller Turpin, DVM. An internal medicine specialist, Miller had learned about HBOT from fellow internists Fairfield Bain and Nathan Slovis. Together, Bain and Slovis brought a chamber to the Hagyard–Davidson–McGee clinic in Lexington, KY, and Miller had bought into their vision.
As Reid says, Miller had the idea, and he had the facility.
“She introduced me to the concept and to the people that were marketing the chamber,” Reid recalled, “and then to Dr. Slovis and Dr. Bain. And then we went and trained…We went to lectures about hyperbaric chambers and horses. Slovis had written articles and lectured, and he was using it in Kentucky with all sorts of applications that made sense.”
Only 20 or 30 chambers like the one Reid and Miller now operate have been built and installed worldwide, originating from a company in Texas. While located adjacent to Reid’s personal clinic, the Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida is open to all and receives referrals from a long list of practicing and treating veterinarians. In the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, air pressure is increased to approximately two to three times normal atmospheric air pressure. During treatment, horses are at liberty in the chamber, which is about the size of standard stall. Horses do not wear a mask and simply breathe in the highly oxygenated air.
When it comes to hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the more severe the condition, the greater the benefit, and no case illustrated that more than when a racehorse called “Ribo” was brought for emergency treatment. The horse presented with a gangrenous tongue and was unable to eat or drink; a foreign object—a needle—was removed but had already introduced an infection with clostridial bacteria. Such bacteria causes gangrene, which often kills its host, but the entire tongue could not be amputated without eliminating Ribo’s ability to breathe or swallow.
“He came in with a basically a dead, rotten, avascular tongue from a foreign body that got a clostridial infection and rotted the top,” Reid explained. “Through amputation of the dead parts [of the tongue] and hyperbaric [oxygen therapy] for the parts we couldn’t amputate, it was cured.”
Oxygen at high concentrations is lethal to clostridial organisms, and it proved to be the only thing that could kill the bacteria that remained in Ribo’s tongue. Miraculously, he made a full recovery.
“That was one of the cases you could point to and say, ‘Hyperbaric oxygen therapy saved that horse’s life,’” Reid said.
Low Risk, High Reward
According to Reid, ideal candidates for HBOT fall into three categories, the first of which is most obvious.
“Any issue relating to [a lack of] blood supply is a candidate,” Reid said. “That includes crush injuries, severe wounds and fractures that interrupt blood supply.”
The second category relates to the first, and that encompasses severe infections, like pneumonia or cellulitis. This is because hyperbaric oxygen can enhance neutrophil function and synergistically act with certain antibiotics. Neutrophils boost the response of other immune cells, like white blood cells.
“Neutrophils and immune function and antibiotics are the principals in fighting infections,” Reid explained.
“Lung bleeders” are the third category. Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses often suffer from lung “bleeding” when pulmonary blood vessels in the lungs rupture during strenuous exercise, as do sport horses like barrel racers and high-level jumpers.
“The mechanism for bleeding is complicated,” Reid said, “but HBOT seems to help those horses recover.”
The additional applications of HBOT read like a laundry list. But what Reid takes comfort in most is knowing that he can offer a rare and revolutionary treatment for patients that may have run out of other options—with little risk.
“I like doing the most good, and it’s probably not harmful to treat anything in the chamber,” Reid said. “A lot of treatments we have, have side effects. Unlike non-steroidal [anti-inflammatory drugs] and antibiotics, which are used every day, [this therapy] has almost no side-effects, and the potential benefits for really severe cases are tremendous.”
To learn more about HBOT and Equine Hyperbaric Center of South Florida, visit https://equinehyperbariccenter.com/.
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