Verne Gavitt just about lost all hope of spending time at the beach with his teenage son this summer.
There would be no way he could handle the stress to his foot, which was plagued with a wound that wouldn't heal.
When it occurred 10 years ago, it seemed like a far-fetched scenario: A small cut from a barnacle while scuba diving turned into a severe infection that spread and caused problems for surrounding tissue and bones.
A couple of surgeries and many medications to fight the infection didn't seem to work.
For Gavitt, a diabetic who lacks some feeling in his extremities, detecting and healing simple cuts and scrapes can be complicated. It also means injuries can take months to heal. After a decade of misery, he realized there might be a possibility of losing a part of his foot.
Gavitt's doctor suggested a visit to University Community Hospital's outpatient Wound Care Center in Brandon. The first facility of its kind in eastern Hillsborough County, UCH opened the clinic late last year. Now, patients no longer have to travel to a similar UCH facility in Carrollwood.
"There's a big need for the wound care center. Most facilities don't have the time or personnel you need," said Dr. Palani Rathinasimy, medical director. "Brandon Hospital had it for a while, then they stopped."
What makes Brandon's Wound Care Center so unique?
The 7,000-square-foot facility features state-of-the-art hyperbaric chambers that supply patients with pure oxygen, which speeds up the body's natural wound-healing process. Its staff includes four surgeons and a podiatrist.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy also provides a second chance for many patients who have tried just about everything to avoid an amputation.
For patients, access to hyperbaric therapy is an issue: Wound recovery is a slow process that can require several or dozens of visits depending on the situation. Treatments typically last about two hours and can be as frequent as five days a week.
Gavitt's treatment involved reopening the wound and surgically reshaping the bones in his foot because there were several pockets and tunnels from past surgeries to remove a metatarsal bone. After the reshaping, the healing process — three months of two-hour hyperbaric treatments, five days a week.
"The healing process was so quick, we could see a difference week to week," said Gavitt of Seffner. "When I first came in, we were almost positive I would lose a toe."
UCH's success rate is an 88 percent wound reduction in 14 weeks. The national average is 88 percent in 16 weeks," said Derall Garrett, UCH's safety director.
Gavitt, whose foot has healed, is taking his health more seriously.
"I wear my tennis shoes everywhere now. I don't want to miss out playing catch with my son."
Randy Khuna, 54, of Riverview felt the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy himself. He has throat cancer and went through 23 radiation treatments, lost his voice and had severe pain in his eyes and ears. After three weeks of hyperbaric therapy, he doesn't need to take his pain medication.
The radical results from the hyperbaric chamber may lure many other interests in usage for them.