Healing people under pressure
2:36pm Thursday 17th April 2008 in News
Oxygen therapy can be used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy and autism and to help people recover from strokes and sports injuries. Reporter DAN KEEL takes a look around an oxygen chamber to find out more.
DAVID Beckham drew attention to oxygen therapy in 2002 when he received treatment for a broken metatarsal bone in his left foot.
He regained fitness just in time to play a part in England's unsuccessful World Cup campaign.
But it is not just the rich and famous who can benefit from such therapy.
Sixty people, including four Bromley and Bexley residents, regularly attend the Swanley Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Unit in Park Road, which is one of only two such centres in the south east.
These currently include 27 MS sufferers, three stroke victims and three people with autism.
They pay a membership fee of £10 with the same amount charged as a minimum donation for an hour-long session to help the charity meet its annual costs of around £28,000.
Seventy-year-old MS sufferer Eunice Martin, who lives in Rogers Court, Swanley, has received therapy at the unit since it opened in 1984. She said: "I felt the effect of the sessions after about one week.
"When I arrived I was on a walking frame and very ill.
"After 18 months I managed to get off the frame and have never looked back. I would recommend it to anyone."
High dosage oxygen therapy is non-invasive, painless and safe.
It takes the form of three phases - compression, therapy and decompression.
Up to eight members can sit in the chamber where they are helped into their oxygen masks by one of 16 volunteer workers.
The door is shut and the pressure is gradually increased to around double that of the atmosphere outside - equivalent to being 16ft under water.
After an hour of relaxing and chatting to other members in the chamber, the pressure is reduced and the members are invited into the lounge for a cup of tea before they go home.
The centre's development manager, Julie Partridge, said: "The therapy allows oxygen to penetrate parts of the brain where blood flow is hindered which can help reduce swelling.
"This helps treat MS sufferers as well as those who have autism or who are recovering from strokes.
"It can also help the blood supply reach injured muscle and bone tissue, which speeds up the healing process.
"This can help burn victims and those who have sport injuries. We are currently treating some players from Crystal Palace Football Club."
She added: "None of this would be possible without the tireless work from our team of dedicated volunteers.
"Sometimes we have to encourage them to stay at home as they have worked too many hours."
The therapy centre, which relies entirely on donations, is holding an open day on Saturday from 10am to 3pm.
Visitors will get a tour of the chamber and can enter a raffle to win tickets to the London musical Mamma Mia or two tickets to a Crystal Palace match.
The day is designed to help the centre raise between £7,000 and £10,000 to fund two private rooms for members to receive other forms of therapy during their visits.
Mrs Partridge explained: "It would be so great if we could get physiotherapists, reflexologists or healers in to help out."
For more information or to make a donation, call 01322 663042 or visit the centre's website at swanleytherapycentre.org