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Kadena hyperbaric chamber saves lives

The hyperbaric treatment works by delivering a higher concentrations of oxygen into the affected tissue areas of the body. The patient is "sealed" into a closed chamber where the atmospheric pressure is increased.

The hyperbaric treatment works by delivering a higher concentrations of oxygen into the affected tissue areas of the body. The patient is "sealed" into a closed chamber where the atmospheric pressure is increased.

Kadena Air Base, Japan -- Since 1995, 167 patients have been treated for decompression sickness in the hyperbaric chamber at Kadena AB, an average of 17 cases per year 

DCS develops when potentially life-threatening bubbles of nitrogen arise in tissues after diving or high-altitude flying. 

Hyperbaric treatment uses pressure and oxygen aids in eliminating those bubbles and the symptoms related to them. 

"The Kadena hyperbaric chamber is a unique Air Force asset serving all of the Western Pacific," said Col. Lawrence Steinkraus, 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. 

Many of the patients treated here have come in for altitude-related cases. For instance, flyers developing problems after their training in the co-located altitude chamber where they are exposed to high-altitude conditions. 

Because of the location on an island, the chamber has also been used for many scuba-related DCS cases. 

The Hyperbaric Service at the 18th Wing was established in the late 1960s. The current chamber was procured in 1967. The chamber is used primarily as an emergency DCS treatment facility. 

Approximately 50 percent of cases are operationally generated, mostly from altitude chamber training or flying, the others mostly from recreational diving. 

The hyperbaric service is unique as the only full-time fully staffed hyperbaric chamber in the region. It has treated military (all services) and civilian patients from Korea to Japan. Without this resource many patients might have faced significant disability or even death. 

The Air Force is in the process of replacing the almost a 40-year-old chamber with a new one to allow the 18th Wing to continue offering this life-saving service for years to come.