POCATELLO — For Sean Ennis, hyperbaric oxygen therapy was a life-changer.
He had fatigue and a variety of health issues that led to him losing his job as an insurance agent and head in a downward spiral. After years of living with those conditions and going through other treatments and prescriptions, he finally tried out hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, and slowly his life got back on track.
“I was dealing with health issues for about six years, and it was kind of on and off just having problems with feeling really tired and not being able to think clearly,” said Ennis, 30, of Pocatello. “It started getting really bad at the beginning of the year. I’d been going to doctors over the years and trying a bunch of different things. Nothing ever helped.”
Finally, his dad told him about HBOT and urged him to try it, saying, “There’s nothing else to lose.”
At first, only his family members saw changes, but then Ennis sprained an ankle and kept going to his HBOT sessions while it healed, and he noticed the injury healed significantly faster than similar injuries he’d had in the past. Then he was hooked.
“I noticed my memory started coming back. I started having more energy,” Ennis said. “I had random pain throughout my body that went away. The light sensitivity I was having — I’d wear sunglasses a lot because it would bother me — that went away. I’m just sticking with it, and I keep getting better and better. Sometimes I have short instances where I feel like I’m all better, and that’s getting longer and longer. It’s like it’s given me my whole life back. It’s a huge difference.”
Now, having done 80 treatments, Ennis feels like he is ready to get a job again.
“As I get better, I can go back to work again,” Ennis said. “I can remember stuff. I can multitask again. I can stay awake. It’s like being alive again.”
Ennis is just one of many success stories that have come out of Idaho Hyperbarics, a privately owned facility at 1125 W. Alameda Road in Pocatello.
HBOT is used to treat a wide variety of injuries, illnesses and diseases — including traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, chronic fatigue, burns, macular degeneration, cerebral palsy and more. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only has 13 approved uses for HBOT, but the owner of Idaho Hyperbarics, Jeff Hampsten, says he has seen success stories in more than just people with those 13 approved conditions.
He said HBOT has rare, mild side effects (mainly short-term nearsightedness) and at worst the conditions his clients come in with stay the same instead of getting worse after trying HBOT.
“It’s probably the safest medical treatment you can do that’s effective for multitudes of things, that has pretty much zero side effects,” Hampsten said.
“I don’t really see any downside to it other than you tried it and it didn’t work,” Ennis said. “Every single person I’ve talked to, whether they’ve seen amazing results or just so-so results with the treatment, everyone’s like, ‘I feel happier. My mood is better. Maybe it didn’t cure me, but at least I feel better.’”
The 20-patient hyperbaric chamber at Idaho Hyperbarics looks somewhat like a submarine, and the inside looks like different nature scenes.
Ennis said people do all sorts of things during the 45-minute sessions, during which the patients are wearing clear plastic hoods that circulate oxygen.
“You just sit back and read a book or color something. Some people play cards or talk,” Ennis said. “It’s just kind of whatever you want to do. A lot of people, they read for a bit and then they put their head back and take a nap. It’s very relaxed.”
HOW DOES HBOT WORK?
According to an Idaho Hyperbarics brochure, “HBOT is a non-invasive, painless treatment that helps speed up and enhance the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Studied for over 300 years, HBOT helps alleviate an enormous range of ailments. Historically used for deep-sea divers with decompression sickness, HBOT is used world-wide to help heal patients who suffer from a broad range of illness and disease.”
During HBOT sessions, air pressure is increased to 1.5 to three times the normal level of Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in up to 20 times as much oxygen.
“When they change (the pressure), it’s like when you go for a drive up in the mountains or you go on an airplane flight,” Ennis said. “It’s not very bad.”
Hampsten explained the process like this.
“The simplest way to understand it is it’s like a bottle of pop,” he said. “When you’ve got pressure on a bottle of pop, it holds more dissolved gas. Well, (the human body) is liquid just like the pop, so when you go under higher than normal pressure, instead of just carrying oxygen on your hemoglobin like you normally do, it actually dissolves into the plasma in the lung. From there, it goes out to your body and it profuses. It dissolves into all the tissues in your body. Some faster than others. Lymphatic fluid takes it up very quickly. Muscle tissue takes it up not as quickly. Bones take it up, not as quick as muscle, but all the different tissues in your body absorb more (oxygen). So by changing the pressure you’re actually changing the way your uptake happens.”
Hampsten added, “Your plasma, the majority of your blood, is not necessarily carrying much (oxygen). It carries a little, but not very much. So when you go under higher than normal pressure, your hemoglobin saturation pretty much goes to 100 (percent). So all of your hemoglobin starts carrying (oxygen). But then it dissolves into the plasma. That’s where you get the exponential gain. By doubling the pressure, we don’t get twice as much — we get 15 times as much (oxygen).”
HYPERBARIC SUCCESS STORIES
One of Hampsten’s favorite “wins” with HBOT involves a boy who’d been in a car accident.
A colleague of his, Dr. Paul Harch of Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans, treated a teenager who’d been in a horrible car accident. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t take care of himself. His mother was told he was a lost cause. After receiving hyperbaric treatment, Hampsten said, “He now has a job. He’s an assistant manager for Walmart. He owns his own home. He drives his own car.”
That, to Hampsten, is a huge success story.
“The way he was (prior to receiving HBOT), he was a lifetime patient for the drug companies,” Hampsten said. “He was a lifetime member of the ‘here, you’re gonna take the pill’ (club).”
Hampsten said Idaho Hyperbarics is currently treating a patient with Parkinson’s disease, and the improvement that patient has experienced is remarkable.
“His palsy is almost completely gone, or is gone most of the time,” Hampsten said. “He just got better. He swears by it. He was going downhill fast with Parkinson’s. We started treating him and (the disease) stopped and reversed. Hasn’t completely gone away all of the time, but it’s so much improved that his entire life has been changed.”
On a personal note, Hampsten says HBOT kept him alive when he had an ongoing heart issue a few years back. By the time he went to the hospital, the doctor said he already should have been dead, and Hampsten said that’s because HBOT was offsetting some of his heart condition’s effects.
Plus, he said, it made his recovery time a lot faster.
Hampsten had open heart surgery on July 25, 2017, and he told his doctor he was going to go to a conference out of state three weeks later. The doctor didn’t believe him but said Hampsten could go if he felt up to it.
Recalling a follow-up appointment he had with the doctor, Hampsten said, “He came in for my 30-day checkup and said, ‘Did you go to your meeting?’ and I went, ‘Yeah I did,’ and he went, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, really.’ … He said, ‘There might be something to this hyperbaric thing.’ And I said, ‘You bet there is. There’s no question that there is.’”
Hampsten wants to get people off of prescription drug treatments — many of which require a lifetime of pills — and into hyperbaric treatment, which only uses oxygen.
When you’re taking drugs, “all you’re doing is treating the symptoms,” Hampsten said. “You’re not healing anything. Hyperbarics triggers the healing. It actually heals brains.”
Ennis said that a lot of younger people are also turning away from drug regimens.
“A lot of millennials, a lot of people (in my) generation, they don’t want the side effects of drugs,” Ennis said. “Meds have their place. If someone has a legitimate hormone imbalance or something like that, it makes sense. They need their medication. But if (HBOT) is an alternative, and it’s just using oxygen and not medication, that’s pretty cool — an all-natural option.”
Hampsten said that one of the biggest problems HBOT can help overcome is traumatic brain injuries.
“Concussions are something that we have in the United States that hyperbarics works extremely well on,” he said. “But the drug companies are bucking it tooth and toenail, and the reason for that is because concussions or brain injuries are in many cases a lifetime of drugs.”
He calls concussions the “new frontier” for HBOT because of its effectiveness in treating that type of injury.
Hampsten believes all sorts of diseases — from ALS to Parkinson’s to fibromyalgia and more — could be related to concussions that were never properly treated.
ON A MISSION
Hampsten took a round-about way of getting to his current career — which he is still all in on despite being 68 years old. He held previous careers as an offshore medic for commercial scuba divers and later was a volunteer ambulance driver in American Falls.
In 1999, he opened the first multi-person hyperbaric chamber in Idaho when he worked for the now-defunct Bannock Hospital in Pocatello. He later owned and operated an independent HBOT clinic for about a year and then brought his hyperbaric treatment to Idaho Doctors Hospital in Blackfoot for several years.
Since 2005, Hampsten has been back on his own with Idaho Hyperbarics.
Having a clinic not affiliated with any larger hospital is just fine for Hampsten, who is on a mission to change how hospitals, health insurance providers and, more pressingly, drug companies operate.
Insurance and Medicare will only cover the 13 approved uses for HBOT, and if you want to use hyperbarics to treat something not on that list, you have to pay out of pocket.
Figuring out which medical issues are covered by insurance is complicated. If you want to find out if your condition can be treated by HBOT and if it is covered by insurance, call Idaho Hyperbarics at 208-237-1151.
Being an independent clinic means Idaho Hyperbarics can charge people a reasonable amount — $150 for a single treatment if it’s something insurance won’t cover.
‘AN UPHILL BATTLE’
Getting any kind of new treatment in the U.S. approved by the FDA is an arduous process, and the same goes for hyperbaric treatment.
“It’s an uphill battle that we’re having,” Hampsten said.
That might be beginning to change, though.
In September, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would “require the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” according to the military news outlet Stars and Stripes.
The bill is currently in the House Subcommittee on Health.
And in October, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to “three scientists for their research into how cells detect oxygen and react to hypoxia — conditions when oxygen is low in tissues,” according to the magazine Science. “The fundamental physiology work has led to a better understanding of how more than 300 genes in the body are regulated, including the one for the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which controls the production of red blood cells.”
The research is essentially about how HBOT can help humans.
Hampsten is hoping that as more of this kind of news reaches the public, more people will be willing to try HBOT.
“I find it interesting that this is precisely what hyperbarics practitioners have been saying for 200 years,” he said of the Nobel Prize winning research.
More information about Idaho Hyperbarics can be found at idahohyperbarics.com.