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Center offers air of hope for healing

A new facility will soon provide hyperbaric treatment to patients with chronic wounds.

Published March 16, 2007

[Times photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes]
Dr. Emilio Dominguez, medical director for the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine, looks at Robert Fick's feet. Fick has a condition that causes chronic ulcers on his legs. Fick hopes to be a candidate for the center's hyperbaric treatment.

ZEPHYRHILLS - It started out six and a half years ago as a small sore on the outside of his right ankle. He wasn't worried.

But then it didn't go away. And it got bigger.

More sores came, crawling, oozing up his calves.

Richard Fick - a former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus clown who, with a size 14 shoe, was born with clown-sized feet - went to a doctor and learned those sores would never go away. He has lipodermatosclerosis, a fancy name that means his veins aren't working as they should, which creates ulcers.

His leg arteries also aren't functioning properly. He had two surgeries, bypassing arteries in his thighs, to try to improve them. The skin on his legs, from the knees down, turned brown and cracked. His toes are misshapen and bloated, his legs badly swollen.

Fick is one of 5- to 7-million Americans with chronic wounds - a condition that costs more than $20-billion in medical treatments each year, according to the National Alliance of Wound Care, a nonprofit organization that certifies wound care specialists.

"The numbers are pretty staggering," said Petros Tsambiras, a doctor at the new Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine of the Pasco Regional Medical Center, which opened in Zephyrhills on March 5. "People are living longer and we're seeing more chronic diseases and more chronic wounds."

There are many causes of chronic wounds, which are usually sores that do not heal after four weeks or other injuries resistant to healing. Diabetes. Poor veins or arteries. Immobility. Burns. Accidents. In some cases, the wounds will heal and stay healed. Others, like Fick's, require constant care.

But now, Fick has some hope.

Within a few weeks, this new center will offer hyperbaric oxygen treatments to patients. Fick has to go through tests to see if he is a good candidate for treatment.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment places a patient in a pressurized chamber where the person breathes in 100 percent oxygen for about two hours. The treatment helps wound healing, stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and improves circulation, among other things, such as fighting infection.

This will be the only hyperbaric oxygen chamber on the east side of Pasco County. There is one on the west side at the Regional Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine center at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Other wound centers scattered across the Tampa Bay area also offer these treatments.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been used to treat a variety of conditions such as cerebral palsy, but the doctors are only going to use it for "what studies have shown them to be successful with," said Emilio Dominguez, Fick's doctor and the center's medical director. And that means wound care.

The center is a few miles from Fick's home. He has been receiving treatments at the Center for Wound Care at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. But when Dr. Dominguez left that hospital to open the new, free-standing center with two other doctors, Fick followed him.

Fick lives alone on disability. He has no vehicle, so he takes a bus to and from his doctor appointments. Hyperbaric treatments can be daily.

"I hope I'm a candidate," he said Tuesday afternoon, as a center nurse scraped dead skin from his wound. These twice weekly visits are the only times he sees his feet and legs because he has to keep his dressings on all the time. He can never get them wet.

Fick, 61, lives with his two dogs, a German shepherd named Max and a mutt named Gambino. He still walks them himself, though it's painful. He could get a motorized wheelchair, but he fears it would make him lazy. He has to keep moving, he says, no matter how much it hurts. Though he has to be careful. One scratch, one dog paw on his ankle, one bang of a foot on his walker and that tiny abrasion can turn into weeks of a huge, open, nasty seeping sore. It's happened.

"I had a scratch," he said. "Two days later, it was the size of a dime. And it kept getting bigger."

He's 6 feet 6, thin, angular, all elbows and hollows, with shaggy grayish hair, blue eyes and a quick smile and wit.

"I can still take the falling," he said, recalling his clown days, "but now I just can't get back up."

He makes the most of his mornings, when the pain is least and the swelling isn't as bad. He still does freelance clown costume design. He also is a calligrapher, art he can do when he's pushed as hard as he can for the day and he needs to rest.

"You have to keep a positive attitude," he said, as he shouted a cheery hello to a friend, another patient, in the waiting room. "Everybody has something."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at or 813 909-4609.

Fast Facts:


For information

Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine of the Pasco Regional Medical Center

Location: 6215 Abbott Station Drive, Zephyrhills

Phone: (813) 479-0225

Web site: www.pasco WOUND_CARE.htm

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 23:42:00]

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