At 74 years old, Edward "Deacon Ed" Beirne is enjoying his retirement by serving others as a Deacon in his parish. He and his wife, Christine, are the proud parents of two sons — an emergency room physician and an assistant fire chief — and they “dote” on their four granddaughters.
So when Deacon Ed as he is called throughout his parish was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, he took decisive action to make sure he would be here for those he takes care of and cares about the most.
After a successful recovery from his cancer, Deacon Ed experienced an unexpected complication from the radiation therapy used in his treatment that he described as “excruciating.”
Diagnosed with radiation cystitis, Deacon Ed had symptoms like hematuria, or blood in his urine, blood clotting and incontinence. The resulting pain led to multiple trips to the emergency room, where he had to be catheterized on a regular basis to alleviate what he called “miserable” pain.
“I had no idea this could occur. I thought the treatment would take care of the prostate cancer, but it ended up causing another problem,” he said. “I was in a lot of pain that I liken to what it must feel like to pass a kidney stone.”
Unable to find relief and lead the productive life he enjoys, Deacon Ed consulted his urologist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Brad White, MD, who referred him to the Wound Healing Center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and its medical director, Mark Ludwig, MD.
Treating complications through wound healing
Opened two years ago, the Missouri Baptist Wound Healing Center is led by Dr. Ludwig, who brings more than 30 years of experience as a surgeon and vascular specialist to the center, and a team of specially trained wound care nurses and technicians.
“More than 7 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic wounds,” Dr. Ludwig said. “At the center, our team specializes in wound care using evidence-based medicine and science to help our patients heal.”
Although not widely known as a treatment for complications from radiation therapy, Dr. Ludwig said the Wound Healing Center has seen a number of radiation patients who have been helped by hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment.
“More than 600,000 patients each year receive radiation therapy for a malignancy, and half of those are long-term survivors,” Dr. Ludwig said. “But for about 5 percent to 10 percent of patients, they may experience collateral ‘damage’ or a complication like Mr. Beirne.”
Even though radiation therapy targets tumors more accurately than ever before, there is a risk for damage to normal cells and radiation injury to surrounding tissues that may lead to drying, sloughing off and bleeding.
To repair the damaged tissues and alleviate the symptoms of radiation cystitis, Dr. Ludwig recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy for Deacon Ed.
“I was skeptical at first about whether the Wound Healing Center and this treatment would help me,” Deacon Ed said. “But I believe in it now.”
In addition to prostate cancer patients, who may have complications that impact either the rectum or bladder, Dr. Ludwig has also cared for breast cancer and head and neck cancer patients following their radiation therapy.
“Radiation is a great thing because it cures cancer, but there can be a cost,” Dr. Ludwig said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we can help.”
Dr. Ludwig said patients who undergo the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment typically spend up to two hours in one of the center’s three chambers, five days a week, for 30 to 60 treatments.
“I was originally scheduled for 40 hyperbaric treatments but ended up having 60 treatments,” Deacon Ed said.
Due to the radiation cystitis and resultant bleeding, Deacon Ed required surgery in early October 2016 and had a “brief period of relief” during the course of his treatments, he said.
“Suddenly the clotting and catheterization returned with fury and in early November I required emergency surgery,” he said. “One of the beautiful things they did for me was held my spot so I could continue treatments without too much interruption. The staff was wonderful and they became like daughters to me.”
During the procedure, patients are exposed to 100 percent oxygen at 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. The sensation would be similar to being 30 feet under the ocean and often involves an ear popping one might feel in an airplane.
“I was inside the chamber about 90 minutes each time. You can watch TV or talk to people, but you just lay there while the pressure builds up,” said Deacon Ed, who completed his daily treatments on Jan. 5, 2017. “About 10 days before I finished my last treatment, everything was fine. I still urinate frequently, but as long as I can go and it’s clear, I’m OK with that.
“Dr. Ludwig was very thorough, and he believes in the treatment he prescribes,” Deacon Ed said. “I really consider myself blessed that this worked for me.”