Date Published: 02-Jun-2011
It is as close as you can get to entering a spaceship, or a submarine, without leaving dry land in the West of Ireland, and it has helped save the lives of scuba divers. And yet many people might not be aware that the Republic’s national medical hyperbaric chamber, which opened late last year at a cost of €1 million, is located at University Hospital Galway.
No scuba diver wants to have to use it, and yet each and every one of them should be delighted that it is there. While the popularity of deep sea diving has increased remarkably over the past decade, the chamber ensures that divers no longer need to be airlifted to Plymouth or Portsmouth in the UK for top class medical treatment.
It is operated mainly by a team of committed, highly trained volunteers who are on call to help out medical staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in case any diver gets into difficulties in Irish waters. Whether he or she needs to be airlifted from Co Kerry or take an ambulance from Carraroe, a committed team of three will be on hand to administer the treatment once the alarm is raised.
Decompression sickness or ‘the bends’, caused by breathing excess nitrogen under pressure, is a hazard faced by divers who surface too quickly or are forced to divert from their dive plans. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only cure and UHG is the only hospital in the country to provide it.
Symptoms of ‘the bends’ include joint pains along the arms or legs, severe itching, numbness, staggering due to poor balance, and acute pain. It is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible if a diver experiences difficulties after a dive.
UHG was the first and only hospital in the country to get a hyperbaric chamber, pioneered by the late Dr Peter O’Beirn, who was also a keen diving enthusiast, back in 1976. A diver would be strapped into the old ten foot long capsule for treatment, but the unit became obsolete and had to be shut down a few years ago.
While the old chamber might have seemed uncomfortable, it did the job for any diver who got into difficulties through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But it was unrecognizable compared to the sparkling new facility at UHG which has seating for ten patients, audio and visual links, and even a DVD player if a patient wishes to watch a film during treatment which can last for up to six hours.
At the moment, the chamber is only used for emergency cases of decompression illness or carbon monoxide poisoning. But, were the funding to become available, it could have a host of other uses, tackling traumatic brain injury, stroke, air embolism, gas gangrene, and nervous system problems which can be tackled by allowing a patient to breathe pure oxygen.
“I looked for funding for this chamber back in 1994, because the old chamber was getting too old. There were no monitoring facilities in it. So, after many years of looking for funding, we finally got it in 2003,” explains anesthetist and Salthill native Dr Noel Flynn as he surveys the new ‘space age’ National Hyperbaric Unit at UHG.
“We also have full monitoring facilities in this chamber. We can look after patients who are ventilating and in critical care. We can monitor their blood pressure, their ECG, and their carbon dioxide levels. We have already managed intensive care patients here.
“The old chamber was 10 foot long and 38 inches in diameter. This one is over 20 foot long and it is eight and a half foot diameter. You can stand up in it. We have CCTV and full sound and video systems inside. We can watch the patients or divers and they can watch a movie or listen to their music. They could be in there for five or six hours, depending on their therapy session.”
A system has been in place for some years now in which divers who get into trouble make contact with the Coast Guard. Medical staff then give them advice concerning the best way to get to UHG and prepare the unit so that it’s ready for action when the patient arrives.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Appeal for information following Portumna crash
Date Published: 08-May-2013
Gardai are appealing for witnesses following a single vehicle crash at the Portumna bridge this morning.
The road from Nenagh to Loughrea reopened shortly after 11 this morning following the completion of a technical exam.
Four men were travelling in a van when they hit the Portumna bridge around 6:30 this morning.
Gardaí, ambulance and two units of Portumna fire services rushed to the scene, and one of the men was taken to Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe.
He is being treated for head injuries, which have been described by Gardaí as serious.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Portumna Garda station on 09-097-42060
President Higgins among GMIT’s first ever honorary fellowships
Date Published: 10-May-2013
GMIT is to honour seven outstanding individuals including President Michael D Higgins with Honorary Fellowships at a special ceremony later this month.
It’s the first time in the 40 year history of the Institute the Governing Body of GMIT has decided to award honorary fellowships.
The GMIT Honorary Fellowships will be conferred at the g Hotel in the city this day two weeks Friday 24 May at 2.30pm in front of 200 invited guests.
Galway commuters hold their breath as LRC intervenes in bus strike
Date Published: 13-May-2013
Galway commuters are holding their breath as there has been a potential breakthrough in the Bus Eireann dispute, as both sides have agreed to talks at the Labour Relations Commission.
The LRC intervened this afternoon, on day two of strike action that has seen 95 per cent of bus services disrupted across the country.
The LRC’s Director of Conciliation Services, Kevin Foley, says the National Bus and Rail Union and the company have agreed to meet for mediated talks at 8 this evening.