UMC and ‘Le Reve’ pool their resources

As acrobats in "Le Reve," the aqua spectacle at Wynn Las Vegas, dropped as much as 80 feet into the pool below, two specialists from University Medical Center watched their entry from underwater.

Richard B. "Gus" Gustavson and Chad McFarlin, whose speciality in hyperbaric medicine includes treatment of diving disorders, had been invited by the show’s management to observe how a critical, yet unseen, part of the elaborate theatrical experience — the work of underwater stage hands — is carried out.

"If they’re more aware of our divers’ duties here, it should be easier to know how to treat them if they ever run into trouble," said Rick Woolworth, head of aquatics for "Le Reve," before the UMC pair put on scuba gear to watch a Saturday performance. "Plus it’s an extra set of eyes on our safety measures."

Fourteen "Le Reve" divers spend the entire 75 minutes of the show under­water, escorting performers "offstage" with breathing apparatus as they leave the pool area. The divers also move heavy scenery around.

No one in the "Le Reve" production, Gustavson and McFarlin noted after they left the pool, was ever in danger of ascending from the water too quickly. That can cause air bubbles to form in the bloodstream and tissues of the body, compressing nerves and obstructing arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels, while triggering harmful chemical reactions in the blood.

"If that were to happen and a diver got what is called an air embolism, they’d be sent to UMC’s hyperbaric chamber immediately," Gustavson said. "It’s potentially fatal."

Hyperbaric medicine is also known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, where pure oxygen is administered in a high-pressure chamber. It has been around in one form or another for more than 300 years.

At first blush, the fact that a UMC team of experts in hyperbaric medicine was called on for consultation by an aquatic show’s management does not seem all that unusual. After all, the hyperbaric chamber was introduced in the 19th century to aid divers who suffered from work-related disorders. Emergency use of the chamber has been effectively used for people with carbon monoxide poisoning as well as diving accidents.

But, given the prevailing use of hyperbaric chambers today in Las Vegas, it is quite strange.

"Even with Lake Mead, we don’t see that many diving disorders in Las Vegas," said McFarlin, a former Army diver who worked with underwater construction and demolition devices.

At the UMC hyperbaric chamber, which holds up to 12 people, the patients who show up day after day generally are men and women with non-­ healing wounds, bone infections and radiation injury to bone and soft tissue.

They wear breathing hoods, which allow each patient to receive their own high concentration oxygen supply.

A team of physicians, including Dr. J. Dylan Curry, supervises the treatment.

"It’s generally an adjunctive therapy done in combination with other medical treatments," Curry said.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves applying oxygen at a pressure greater than one atmosphere, the ambient pressure at sea level. In hyperbaric oxygen chambers, a patient breathes 100 percent oxygen intermittently while the pressure of the treatment chamber is increased to 2 to 3 atmospheres for a prescribed amount of time.

Scientists have found that this exposure increases the amount of oxygen in the patient’s blood being delivered to organs and tissues in the body, which in turn promotes the healing of wounds.

"I think it’s really helping wounds on my foot heal," said Steve Otto, a diabetic who said he had toes amputated before the treatment. "If you don’t have enough oxygen, and a lot of us diabetics don’t, cells can’t heal the wounds."

A high level of oxygen in the blood also helps fight infections caused by a variety of bacteria, some of which live only in the absence of oxygen. The therapy also enables white blood cells to destroy many kinds of bacteria more efficiently.

Curry said hyperbaric oxygen is beneficial in treating diabetic foot ulcers and bone infections and that traumas such as crush injuries and thermal burns that deprive tissues of oxygen also benefit from high-oxygen therapy. He said it is also helpful for patients whose tissues were damaged by radiation therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen actually can be a lifesaver for patients with diving dis­orders, Curry said.

Yet the chamber is used for a diver as a decompression chamber less than 10 times a year, Gustavson said. The normal atmospheric pressure people on dry land experience is known as normobaric pressure. As divers go underwater, the pressure of the water and air above them increases with depth. The additional pressure forces several changes in how a human body processes blood gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.

When a diver surfaces too quickly, gases in their blood can convert to dangerous bubbles. With a hyperbaric chamber able to basically return a diver to the same depth and pressure experienced during the actual dive, nitrogen escapes naturally, leaving only absorbable oxygen.

"I hope none of our divers have to use the chamber, but it’s good to know that we have such a good one at UMC," said Rick Lovett, the assistant head of aquatics for Wynn and the man who took out Gustavson and McFarlin for an underwater swim in the Wynn Las Vegas pool before the show.

While UMC houses the first clinical rectangular chamber being used in the United States — the inside looks more like an ordinary room rather than a medical treatment device — there are hyperbaric chambers throughout the valley, many of them just one-person chambers.

Some individuals are using the chamber as an anti-aging device, "but there’s no science to back that up," McFarlin said.

In the 1990s, singer Michael Jackson, who was pictured in a mono-hyperbaric chamber, said he thought the chamber could help people live until age 150.

A number of professional athletes, including NFL receiver Terrell Owens, have a chamber at home. They say it helps their injuries heal faster.

"Studies show that to be true," Mc­Farlin said.

What worries McFarlin is that hyper­baric oxygen therapy has joined the ranks of unproven remedies for many conditions, particularly incurable ones such as autism and cerebral palsy.

"Insurance won’t pay for those treatments, and all people are getting out of it is bankrupt and heartbreak," he said.

Medicare pays up to $350 for a covered hyperbaric treatment such as a non­healing wound, Gustavson said, adding that commercial insurance for a diver pays nearly $1,000 for a session.

The therapy is not without risks, though most are minor and generally short-lived. They include ear and sinus pain, low blood sugar and anxiety attacks resulting from confinement in the chamber.

In 2009, a grandmother and her 4-year-old grandson were killed in the explosion of a hyperbaric chamber in Florida. The blast at the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea clinic dislodged a tube attached to a hyper­baric chamber, resulting in an explosion and flash fire, authorities said.

Because hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves the use of pressurized oxygen, McFarlin said, it is obviously a fire and explosion hazard. He said UMC and other hospitals and treatment centers follow specific safety protocols to make fire less of a hazard. Before the Florida accident, there had been no documented fatality in a chamber in more than 75 years of use in North America.

As 58-year-old Susan Jurgensen waited to undergo hyperbaric treatment at UMC, she said each session in the chamber — three 30-minute treatments with five minute breaks in between comprise a session — isn’t tough to take.

When compression in the chamber is built up, she feels a pressure in her ears that is much like the sensation of descending in an airplane. At the end of the treatment period, when it is time to decompress, she said her ears adjust automatically.

Jurgensen said she prayed that many weeks of sessions in the chamber would help tissue in her face mend, a wound brought upon by a medical accident that she said has broken her heart.

The former model said she was over-radiated during cancer treatment in New York, and she now worries that the scarring on her nose looks like a red bulls-eye.

"I think it’s healing the tissue, don’t you?" she asked, tears welling in her eyes.

What will be tough to take about the treatment, she said, is if the wound on her nose won’t heal.

"People say that with my makeup on they can’t see it, but I know it’s there. You don’t know how bad I want this oxygen therapy to work."

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.

Melvin Dummar dead at 74
Melvin Dummar has died at 74. Dummar was famous for claiming to have saved Howard Hughes in a Nevada desert in 1967. Dummar claimed to have been left $156 million in Hughes’ will. The will mysteriously appeared after Hughes’ death in 1976. It was dismissed as a fake two years later. Dummar never saw a dime of the billionaire's fortune. Dummar died Saturday in Nye County.
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece. (@FlightAlerts_)
Park Service plans ahead for lower lake levels
National Park Service releases new plans to maintain access to the water as Lake Mead continues to shrink.
Women claim abuse at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Facility
Current and ex-inmates, including Merry West, are suing Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility, claiming abuse and inadequate medical care. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Butte County Sheriff's Office Body Cam Footage
Bodycam video from Butte County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office Deputy Aaron Parmley, who was in Paradise November 8 helping with evacuations. (Butte County Sheriff's Office)
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 106
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 160, near Mt. Potosi Road, in Clark County as part of a $59 million, 6-mile-long highway widening project that began this summer. (Nevada Department of Transportation)
Car crashes into Papa Murphy's Pizza shop
A driver crashed a car into a western Las Vegas Valley pizza shop on Tuesday morning, police said. (Joe Stanhibel/Special to Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Low-lake-level pumping station nears completion
Barnard Construction and the Southern Nevada Water Authority give one last tour before the new low-lake-level pumping station is activated.
Trailer: Valley of Fires
Sultan’s Playroom from Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada
Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada’s Scott Rosenzweig talks about granting Sultan Bouras Souissi’s wish, and what went into building it. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Marsh brings historic replica of rural church to Amargosa Valley
Jim Marsh talks during the opening of the Chapel at Longstreet, a replica of an 1874 Catholic church built in the mining town of Belmont, Nev., at Marsh's Longstreet Casino in Amargosa Valley, Nev. Chase Stevens/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
People participated in the 14th annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run which raises cubs for Opportunity Village.
World Holidays Exhibit At The Natural History Museum
Migratory Bird Day teaches adults and kids to celebrate birds
Different organizations offered activities for kids and adults to learn about birds and celebrate their migration journey at Sunset Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Interfaith Amigos speak in Las Vegas
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Dreamsickle Kids Foundation founder Gina Glass talks awareness
Gina Glass, 35, founded Dreamsickle Kids Foundation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease in Nevada. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like