Feb 27, 2011 10:01 PM by Dr. Anya Winslow

Healing under pressure

"Mommy." Most children can say that word well before their first birthday. Aidan Hughes, who is eight, just recently started saying, "Mommy."

He was diagnosed with moderate autism just before his second birthday. Since his diagnosis, he has had a team of therapists, teachers, and doctors working with him. Over the years he has tried a wide range of therapies, but the most improvement his parents have seen in him has been in the last three months.

"Mommy sneezed. Mommy hiccupped, you know, and all of a sudden Mommy is just...he's been able to say Daddy for some time, but it's really special to hear Mommy," an almost teary-eyed Jenny Hughes says.

He receives a treatment called Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy that uses oxygen as the medicine. A patient enters a chamber, and air is pressurized to 30% more than what the person feels at sea level. It is the kind of pressure one would experience if one is eleven feet underwater.

When one subjects the body to pressure in the presence of oxygen, oxygen dissolves in increased amounts into multiple parts of the body. Specifically, it dissolves into the liquid part of blood known as plasma, as well as other bodily liquids including cerebrospinal fluid.

Under certain conditions, it has been shown to have tremendous healing powers. It can reverse the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and the "bends" and heals diabetic foot ulcers. As for improving the condition of autism, there is much debate about its effectiveness.

"There is some evidence, but we need better, good scientific evidence with randomized control trials," says Memorial Hospital's Director of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Dr. Robert Price.

The Hughes family is happy with the results they are seeing in Aidan after his forty-three treatments, which are each an hour long. They have been going to Pikes Peak Hyperbaric since mid-November and are continuing to receive treatment.

Hughes also mentioned other changes in Aidan since starting this treatment. "Four and six word sentences, totally new, totally new and this is all been since we've started the HBOT treatments."

The improvements do not stop there. "He'll go out of his way to get right in our line of vision, which is huge. It's huge ‘cause he's actually 110% loner," adds Hughes. In recent weeks, he has been seeking their affection, too.

Even though this mild HBOT therapy is not endorsed by the FDA for the treatment of autism, Dr. Price believes there needs to be much more research in this area, and he encourages parents who may consider this form of alternative therapy to "be part of a formal research trial to try and help us build more evidence." He also stresses the importance of safety. "If they're already doing it, I would just encourage them to make sure it's being done in a safe fashion."

Aidan's mom also says, "I want to remind other parents that every child is so different, and when you're looking for a treatment that you've never tried before, think about how it affects your entire family. Can you do it? What's the short-term and the long-term look like and, obviously, the cost?"

When asked if they would do it again, Hughes enthusiastically responds, "I think that HBOT isn't a cure-all, but it will facilitate. I totally, totally believe that, and my husband and I talked about it and we said if we had a chance to do it again, we most definitely would."

It is important to stress that Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is an alternative treatment for autism and is still very experimental.

Doctors advise that you should talk with your child's physician before trying this therapy.

Click here to learn more about clinical hyperbarics click here for Pikes Peak Hyperbaric.


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