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Sleepy Hollow Hyperbaric Team Saves Lives During the Pandemic

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Led by groundbreaking work from Dr. Owen O’Neill, the largest hyperbaric chamber in the Northeastern United States is healing COVID-19 patients.

Finding alternate and effective ways to treat the COVID-19 virus has been a difficult yet critical task over the last two years. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a method of treatment aimed at boosting the amount of oxygen in the body by pumping pure oxygen and increasing the air pressure inside a chamber hood. By breathing in the specialized air in the chamber hood, your blood carries the extra oxygen to affected areas of the body which heal the organs and tissues needed to survive.

“Most recently during the pandemic, our research demonstrated how the use of hyperbaric oxygen hoods helped improve patients’ oxygen saturation levels and prevented them from the mortality risks of mechanical ventilation,” says Dr. Owen O’Neill, the leader of the small hyperbaric team and medical director of the Division of Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital.

Dr. O’Neill’s encouraging HBOT research and conviction in his team’s clinical trial were both critical in saving the life of Dr. Morton Altwerger, who was suffering severe breathing problems from COVID-19. O’Neill chose to treat Altwerger with HBOT instead of a ventilator, resulting in a full recovery in one year’s time.

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During the first week of June, Dr. O’Neill received the 2022 Excellence in Hyperbaric Medicine Award from the Undersea & Hyperbaric Society for his noble and innovative work throughout the pandemic. “I am particularly honored by this recognition as it highlights the continuum of work that my team and I accomplish at Phelps Hospital,” notes O’Neill. “We are always interested in pushing the boundaries of hyperbaric medicine, research, education, and how hyperbaric oxygen can improve patient care.”

O’Neill and Dr. David Dayya, the associate medical director of the Division of Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital, determined in a joint study they published on April 1, 2021, in the journal of Respiratory Medicine that hyperbaric therapy was safer and more effective than mechanical ventilation in preventing mortality rates. “We’ve had multiple research papers published over the years for hyperbaric, respiratory, and wound care,” adds O’Neill.

When speaking about their study and Dr. O’Neill’s award, Dayya said that “Dr. O’Neill has been a mentor of mine for years. I’m so pleased that he’s receiving this award for his dedication to hyperbaric medicine. He is a true pioneer and more than deserving of the Excellence in Hyperbaric Medicine award.”

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