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LBJ unveils newest hospital equipment, a hyperbaric chamber

A milestone was marked for American Samoa with the unveiling of a hyperbaric chamber at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center yesterday morning. According to Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS), this was a project that has long been on the drawing board and was led by efforts of Governor Togiola Tulafono’s administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary and LBJ’s Board and Management.

According to a press release by FBNMS, first talk of this effort started in 2008, where NOAA’s FBNMS brought down a team of three personnel from Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which included Superintendent Jeff Gray, Tom Kane from Alpena Regional Medical Center in Michigan and Olin Johnson of Alpena Community College to meet with local officials and assist with efforts to mirror a similar project in Michigan.

At yesterday’s unveiling, Togiola recognized the immense benefits of this infrastructure at the hospital — not just for treatment of injuries related to diving (because the nearest hyperbaric chamber is in Fiji) — but also raising the safety net for American Samoa, allowing it to increase dive-related tourism and marine research in the territory.

He also explained that hyperbaric treatment would serve patient care further with medical treatments for wound care, carbon monoxide poisoning and several other disorders.

“It is very critical and important that this kind of treatment be available to our patients. It is life sustaining. It is life maintenance,” said the governor. “I can’t say enough to thank the National Marine Sanctuary for their assistance and help in bringing in these good ideas and introducing these wonderful services. This hyperbaric chamber is now going to be able to treat our diabetic patients.”

Togiola also recognized the Director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Daniel Basta, for his commitment and support in keeping the team focused on this project.

The governor also mentioned that he supported this new facility with an additional allocation for LBJ to complete it properly.

Samoa News spoke to LBJ CEO Mike Gerstenberger who said, “We are delighted to have this new tool that will help us take better care of patients. We’re excited. We’re going to be setting up proposals and getting trained over the next few months and we will be very happy when we can unveil this new therapy to the citizens of American Samoa.”

Although the chamber was being touted as the first in the territory, Samoa News understands the territory has had at least two others, dating back to the 80s. Aside from its obvious medical benefits, the availability of a hyperbaric chamber allows for insurance coverage of divers doing contract work in the territory.

A hyperbaric chamber, also called a decompression chamber or re-compression chamber, is a sealed chamber in which a high pressured environment is used primarily to treat decompression sickness, gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene resulting from infection by anaerobic bacteria, and tissue injury arising from radiation therapy for cancer and wounds that are difficult to heal.