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New clinic healing wounds in Cloquet

Bree Mattson, program director at the Cloquet Advanced Wound Clinic, holds the door open to one of the new hyperbaric chambers at the clinic. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 3
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Sometimes wounds do not heal normally on their own. After exhausting all other options clients are put into a hyperbaric chamber, which pushes oxygen into the tissue and promotes healing. Special to the Pine Journal3 / 3

The Cloquet Advanced Wound Clinic is making a difference for patients who have stubborn wounds that won't heal or heal slowly.

Healogics — the nation's largest provider of wound care services — partnered with Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet to open the wound care center in September.

Wounds sometimes refuse to heal for a variety of reasons, such as diabetes or infections.

That's when the wound clinic comes in. When a patient comes in for the first appointment, the wound is evaluated by a doctor and a plan is put into motion.

Bree Mattson, clinical program director, is excited about the many options the clinic has to offer.

"There have been some amazing leaps in technology for wound healing," she said.

One is the use of bioengineered skin substitutes. Scientists have learned how to grow skin from human cells, such as placentas, Mattson said. They can grow a sheet of skin as large as a football field and cut it into pieces that can be set on an open wound to help it regenerate. The skin can also be used to heal skin diseases.

There are also new dressings and compression wraps that are easier for patients to use.

Some wounds need to have a special wound vacuum placed to keep them clean so they can heal.

Cloquet resident Nancy Tobolaski, 66, suffered for seven years with a wound near her tailbone that would not fully heal. Tobolaski burned her back in a fire pit which resulted in a six-month hospital stay. She underwent three unsuccessful skin grafts while in the hospital, and endured five more in the following six years.

"I was in pain 24/7," Tobolaski said about the deep hole in her back. "It was like a bad toothache. It would heal over, then break open when I moved because there was so much scar tissue by my tailbone."

After a gallbladder surgery, Tobolaski asked the doctor to operate on the wound on her back. A few days after the operation, the wound became infected. For five days she was back in the hospital, where she was finally sent to the wound clinic.

Tobolaski has been getting the stubborn sore vacuumed three times a week for two months to clear the drainage and successfully encourage healing.

"It's been a miracle," Tobolaski said happily. "I am thankful I had this. And the girls who work there are wonderful. They go above and beyond to help."

Best of all, Tobolaski is finally pain-free after seven years of constant pain.Another option is special medical maggots (fly larvae) set into the wound to clear out the dead skin. The procedure is called maggot debridement therapy and the maggots specifically eat only dead or dying tissue. The tiny maggots are set in the open wound to eat away at dead and infected skin. A special bandage is used to keep the creepy crawlers under wraps, yet allow them to breath.

As for getting rid of the maggots?

"The maggot dressing is removed as soon as the maggots have finished secreting their proteolytic (tissue-dissolving) enzymes," the website explained. "At that time their natural instinct is to leave the wound and crawl away as quickly as possible. When the dressing is opened, the maggots will be 'at the gate' eagerly awaiting their release."

The site also notes maggots can't reproduce in a wound as they are immature during the procedure. Medical maggots are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are rarely used. The Cloquet Wound Clinic has not used them yet. If the wound does not respond to any treatments it may be time for the hyperbaric chamber. The Advanced Wound Clinic has two mono placed chambers that treat one person at a time. The chamber looks like a tanning bed with a clear cover over it and a thick door on the end that reminds one of a mini-bank vault.

According to the wound center's press release: "Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy medical treatment enhances the body's natural healing process by providing patients 100 percent oxygen for breathing in a transparent body chamber. Pressure in the hyperbaric chamber is increased and controlled to help improve oxygen delivery to all tissues in the body. This also helps to reduce swelling, fight infection, build new blood vessels and, ultimately, produce healthy tissue. HBO is for patients with chronic, non-healing wounds who have tried other forms of wound care treatment."

The air we breathe has 23 percent oxygen.

"The chamber is 100 percent oxygen and when you pressurize oxygen the molecules become very small and it goes into the plasma and not carried by the red blood cells, so it can heal them up," Mattson said. "It's pretty cool."

There are strict rules in place for using the chamber to minimize the risk of fire. No makeup, hair products, electronics and anything else that may cause a spark is allowed in the chamber. According to, a 73-year analysis of fires in clinical hyperbaric chambers discovered there were no fatalities reported in North America, although the statistics differ for non-clinical chambers.

The use of hyperbaric chambers have proven helpful for diabetics.

Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage to the legs and feet caused by diabetes, which can cause tingling and numbness. The vessels in the legs begin to stiffen up because of high blood sugar, and the nerve endings in the feet deaden so they can't feel anything in their feet. Some people develop sores and don't realize it right away.

Mattson saw a patient who had a thumbtack stuck in the bottom of his foot. He had no idea how long it had been there.

Mattson had another client whose child put a Lego in his boot and he didn't realize it.

"He walked around until he got a huge hole in his foot and he never knew it was there. Diabetics end up with these bad wounds in their feet because their circulation is so poor it won't heal," Mattson said. "If you put them in the chamber and pressurize the oxygen, it will push the molecules into the plasma and then deliver it to where the wound is and heal it up."

Diabetic wounds can be difficult to heal, so the hyperbaric chamber may be the last option before amputation.

Mattson told of a patient who was scheduled to have a foot amputated shortly after his appointment at the wound clinic.

After his treatment, he noticed an improvement, and the foot was saved.

Another patient is undergoing treatment for side effects of radiation treatment. He has endured radiation side effects for five years.

"He is already doing better after two weeks of treatment in the chamber," Mattson said. She noted while the average patient receives 30 treatments, he will probably need 40 treatments.

Mattson said the hyperbaric chamber can also be used in cases of carbon monoxide poison, flesh-eating strep, diabetic foot and more.

Call the wound clinic at 218-878-7036 if you have a wound that has not healed in 30 days or a wound has become infected, Mattson advises.