Thrive by IU Health

October 02, 2023

The happily ever after cancer and the chamber of healing

IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital

The happily ever after cancer and the chamber of healing

Clovis Hensley lives a simple life with his wife of 42 years. He finished skin cancer treatment in February of 2023 but was living with some side effects of the radiation therapy. The treatment successfully removed the cancer on both of his legs, but it left him with two small sores on the lower right leg.

When the sores first appeared, Hensley was nervous thinking the cancer was returning. The sores were about half the size of a dime, and in two months they grew together into the size of a soda bottle cap. He went back to the doctor for a biopsy of the sores. The cell extraction showed it was not cancer but instead radiation dermatitis, also known as radiation burn.

To treat the burn, his dermatologist placed dressings on the sores that Hensley then had to change every day. Unfortunately, this treatment wasn’t helping. So, Hensley was referred to the IU Health Ball Memorial Wound Healing Center and met Robin Fox, MD and John Eliades, MD.

Fox trimmed Hensley’s scabs and kept a wound VAC over the leg. The vacuum-assisted closure would help the wound heal more quickly.

For a few weeks, Hensley carried around the portable pump and changed his dressings every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But the wound was still not showing signs of healing.

The doctors recommended he use the hyperbaric oxygen chambers (HBOs) to heal his wound. HBO therapy treats non-healing wounds by applying 100% pure oxygen pressure to the body. The pressurized chamber helps the lungs collect more oxygen which allows the damaged tissue to heal from the increase in circulation.

“They told me what to do for treatment and I just accepted it,” says Hensley, “I had faith in them and faith in the Lord that I would be fine and get through it.”

For the next month, Hensley would spend two hours in the chamber, letting the oxygen heal his leg. “It was a little tight, but it didn’t hurt at all,” says Hensley. “I mostly found it relaxing, and everyone was super nice.”

Hensley would enter the chamber with juice or water, and the nurses would check-in with him via phone. He would spend the time taking naps and watching the tv in the room.

After about 30 HBO treatments, his doctors noticed the wound was still struggling to heal fully. To help the skin, they referred him to William Cassel, MD for a skin graft surgery.

He transplanted skin from the upper part of his leg to the area of his leg that wasn’t healing.

Cassel performed the surgery at the outpatient center at IU Health Ball. “That surgery was super easy, I went in and got to go home the same day,” he says.

The following week, Hensley used a wound VAC at home and then spent the last ten days in the HBO chamber. Two months later, the sores on his lower leg were fully healed.

Hensley is now back to his retired life, getting donuts after church with his wife, and visiting friends for coffee. He is a cancer survivor and has had multiple surgeries. He notes his optimism saying, “I trust my doctors to do their job, and God to watch over me. I’ve been through a lot, but I’m still here. It’s important to keep a good outlook on life, if you want to live to be 90 years old, like me.”

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