DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s estimated about 20 veterans lose their life to suicide every day. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
North Carolina’s Senate Bill 442 is creating an opportunity to expand treatment to help deal with these issues. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is often used for sores or wounds that don’t heal. At Extivita RTP, it’s being used to help veterans.
“To imagine being an absolute suicidal and broken person that just can’t go on, I was a lump on the couch for my teenage girls, to get to a point because somebody introduced me to hyperbaric, that I get my life back, is amazing,” said Simon Ellis Lemay, a retired sergeant major with the U.S. Marines.
Lemay has gone undergone 80 sessions with the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to help with trauma developed during his career in the marines. He was exposed to physical traumas after being exposed to explosions and gunfight. They made the emotional traumas of witnessing his best friend’s death and loss of limbs of another friend more difficult to cope with.
Lemay’s post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries brought him to his lowest in 2012.
“I couldn’t pull my life together and at one point in 2012, I crawled underneath a bed in bedroom in Temecula, California with a 9mm. While under that bed, I decided that was the place that I needed to be because I didn’t want my children to see the mess that I was about to make,” he said.
His wife helped convinced him not to pull the trigger. His uncle and aunt convinced to try hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
“I’d say it’s gotten to at least 1,000 soldiers in the U.S., but, as you may be aware, it’s hundreds of thousands that we need to get to,” said Edward diGirolemo, CEO of Extivita, a clinic conducting hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
The idea is to pump pure oxygen and pressure into the chambers to relieve inflammation in the body.
“A lot of people may believe that traumatic brain injury and PTSD is a physical injury, when in fact, that difficulty in thinking is being caused by, potentially, some damage to the brain from impact,” said diGirolemo.
The therapy can also help athletes with injuries like concussions. A few Carolina Hurricanes players have signed the chamber after their treatment.
“Hyperbarics gave me an opportunity when I came back to treat that injury, to get myself back to a place where I could be a good husband, a good father,” Lemay said.
Senate Bill 442 allocates a total of $150,000 to give free treatment to veterans. Exitivia’s new program charge veterans $75 per session. Health care staff on site typically prescribed most vets 40 sessions to start.
“If I would not have done this treatment, I truthfully will tell you, I would have been a statistic to suicide,” Lemay said.
Lemay hopes more veterans will hear about this and start their journey to healing, too. He knows this may not work for every veteran, but it could be worth a try
“Let’s keep moving forward and let’s treat people. Let’s help them,” he said.
Staff at Extivita said they are typically available for appointments within a week. Patients meet with a nurse practitioner to asses if their needs could be met by this kind of treatment. If they can, that nurse practitioner can up a prescription for the treatment for patients to begin.