The following is part one of an interview given by patient James Leonard to help the Center for Wound Healing at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital observe its one-year anniversary.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 5 years old. Back when I was a young man, I didn’t do the things I needed to do to maintain my health. Now, 50 years later, I have heart disease and recently had to have cataract surgery on both my eyes. I also have Charcot syndrome, a condition common to many diabetics that causes foot deformities. Charcot had already cost me a toe on my right foot and I was in danger of losing my whole left foot before coming to the Center for Wound Healing at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
Having Charcot syndrome I make sure to check my feet every day. This is especially important because I wear a brace to stabilize my left foot, after having my left heel collapse while working as a wood stacker at an area lumber mill. One day, when checking my feet, I noticed a blister had formed where there was a pressure point from the brace.
The next day I was at the doctor having it examined. She realized it was infected and had me on the operating table in about an hour. I don’t know if I could have caught the blister any sooner, but the infection had tunneled all the way down to the bone. The doctor had to cut out a big chunk, leaving a wound that was 4.5 to 5 centimeters across and very deep.
I lived with that big hole in my foot for two years. Every week I went to the doctor and it was the same routine: take the bandage off, look at it, put the bandage back on. She was putting medication on it, but I began to wonder whether we were going to try anything else. So I made a trip to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for a second opinion. The wound center wasn’t open yet, but Dr. Gregory Gadowski and Joan Punt were treating patients with chronic, non-healing wounds.
They started with a total contact cast. I kept on asking about the hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Dr. Gadowski wasn’t sure it was going to help me, but once they had the Center open and the HBOT chambers up and running, he suggested that we try thirty weekly treatments to see what happened.
Now, 30 treatments is a lot; five days a week for six weeks. I live in Bellows Falls and I haven’t been able to drive a car since my heel injury. Additionally, the changes in my health care coverage left me without a way to pay for medical rides. There was no way I could afford to pay for rides to daily appointments on my disability income, so I had to take the bus. Every day I would leave my Bellows Falls apartment and walk to the Connecticut River Transit stop at the corner of my street. There is a bus that leaves at 5:50 a.m. and another at 8 a.m. and it’s about an hour down to the Brattleboro Transportation Center, where I would switch to The Current’s blue line that stops at BMH. For the return trip, the first bus back to Bellows Falls is at 3 p.m., so I would usually get back home around 4:30 each afternoon.
There are a lot of people getting treatment for different things at the Center; people who had radiation treatments 20 years ago, people whose wounds were bleeding. I’d hear their stories and think that maybe I wasn’t doing so bad -- at least I got over the thought of losing my feet. That was a big concern when I started treatment. I was depressed and I wasn’t dealing with things very well. It was a battle. Dr. Gadowski told me I would have to make a commitment to the treatment, and I had told him I would.
James Leonard is a resident of Bellows Falls. For more information about the BMH Center for Wound Healing, call 802-275-3674.