KAPAAU — At first glance, the device resembles an escape pod from the starship Enterprise in “Star Trek.”
But for naturopathic doctor Deborah Ardolf, Vitaeris 320 has quite a different purpose.
“It’s a soft hyperbaric oxygen chamber that creates an environment where pathogens can’t survive,” she said. “As soon as I got it, I had patients using it six days a week.”
Ardolf is the only doctor on Hawaii Island treating patients with the device currently. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is practiced by physicians in nearly 30 states on the mainland, as well as throughout Europe and Asia.
“Word has been spreading fast, and patients have come from as far as Kona and Waimea and as close as Hawi and Kapaau to use it,” Ardolf said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when body tissue is injured it requires even more oxygen to promote healing and fight infection. First used for scuba divers suffering from decompression sickness, hyperbaric oxygen treatment can also help minimize inflammation and improve blood flow.
Doctors now use it to treat open wounds from surgery, injuries, infections and diabetes. The International Hyperbaric Association says hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also be used in conjunction with conventional radiation and chemotherapy treatments to help weaken tumors and reduce their aggressiveness.
In addition, the device can aid patients suffering from stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and cardiac problems, as well as children with autism spectrum disorders.
The contraption has either a hard or a soft chamber. The hard chamber was newsworthy in 1984 when doctors used it to treat Michael Jackson for burns he sustained while filming a Pepsi ad. He bought his own machine in 1994 and slept in it regularly to maintain his health.
Dr. Susan Steinemann, medical director for the Hyperbaric Treatment Center of University Health Partners of Hawaii operated by University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, treats patients using a hard hull hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
“We deliver pure oxygen at pressures that are higher than what we normally live at, in a specialized chamber,” she said during in an interview on NPR Hawaii’s “The Body Show” Aug. 6. “That allows us to get very high concentrations of oxygen into the lungs and then into the tissues, which is critical for healing and fighting infections. It’s classic for … those who’ve had radiation therapy for cancer … and patients with diabetes.”
Ardolf’s soft chamber instead uses filtered compressed air. Patients lay down inside the tube, and once it’s zipped closed it fills with the filtered air to breathe.
“It’s more therapeutic for medical needs and goes up in 1.3 atmospheres – the same pressure scuba divers feel at 33 feet below the ocean’s surface,” she said.
According to OxyHealth, one of the major producers of hyperbaric chambers, under the pressurized environment the oxygen dissolves into the blood plasma, saturating the fluid and bringing about a wide range of positive cellular, biochemical and physiological effects.
“I stay with patients the first time they use it in case they have a hard time clearing their ears, and monitor all patients every 15 minutes throughout their treatments,” Ardolf said.
The majority of her clients who’ve tried her new chamber have suffered from different types of cancer.
“Tumors can’t live in an oxygen environment,” Ardolf said. “Most often the chamber is used five to six days per week for best results.”
She starts patients in 15-minute increments, then 30 minutes, 45 minutes and ultimately an hour.
“They don’t have to worry about veins for needles and can lay down, which is a big relief for those who are really fatigued and exhausted,” Ardolf said. “They get so relaxed in the chamber that it’s like a moment of quiet meditation with no cellphones.”
Ardolf first moved to Hawaii in 1997 to work at Rehab Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu as a speech pathologist. Next she worked at Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu in the same capacity. She moved back to the mainland to earn her premed at San Diego State and a doctorate degree at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. She returned to Hawaii in 2014.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment can be used along with other therapies and medications. Last year, Jill, who asked that her last name not be used, was diagnosed with lymphoma, which led her to work with an oncologist and Ardolf simultaneously.
“I did chemo and then the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. It’s like other types of oxidative therapy without an IV and the pain,” Jill said. “There have been heavy toxic levels from the vog in Kona the last three months, so I’m doing as many sessions a week as possible with Ardolf. It’s detoxifying and makes it more difficult for the cancer to grow.”
Ardolf said that what’s different about her natural approach to treating cancer is that it treats the underlying cause.
“There are cancers caused by infections and quite a few caused by viruses. In modern day society we don’t have a good way to treat viruses — or virus loads — and that’s where oxidative therapy can knock down both,” she said.
The number of times a patient needs to use the chamber varies.
“For an aggressive cancer, I schedule patients to use the chamber for 30 days, five or six days a week, and then re-evaluate to see if they don’t need to do it as often,” Ardolf said. “I’ve also seen improvement in as quick as 15 minutes from one of my patients with vascular dementia. His wife noticed that right after his first treatment he was talking coherently and intelligibly in the car on the way home.”
Deborah, another of Ardolf’s patients who asked to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with lung cancer last year.
“I’ve been using hyperbaric oxygen therapy as often as possible and can breathe so much better now,” she said.
A Waimea resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been coming to Kapaau for the treatment once a week.
“I’ve seen small wounds, cuts and scrapes from working construction and riding horses all heal quicker than previously,” he said.
He also had cancer surgery and radiation treatment several years ago, resulting in high levels of fatigue.
“I wasn’t happy with Western medicine. It seemed like doctors were just giving me blood tests and pills,” he said. “Ardolf started with some herbal therapy and then the chamber. In the first three days a canker sore went away, which usually takes two weeks to heal. My fatigue level has also decreased.”
Ardolf has worked with patients who also go to primary physicians at Mango Medical and Dr. John Dawson in Waimea, as well as Dr. Larry Derbes in Kona.
The soft hyperbaric oxygen chamber cost Ardolf a pretty penny at $21,000. As more and more people become aware of its benefits, she said she’ll consider purchasing a second one.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments at Dr. Ardolf &Associates are not currently covered by insurance, but an introductory rate of $75 per session is available through August.
“I’ve completed my repertoire of oxidative therapy for everybody now,” Ardolf said. “I have hyperbaric chamber, ozone therapy and hydrogen peroxide — the three oxidated treatments. Hyperbaric is the most popular because it’s no needles and less expensive currently than any of the other medicines.”
Info: Call Dr. Ardolf &Associates at 498-4018 or learn more about hyperbaric chambers at www.oxyhealth.eu.