An internationally recognized leader in hyperbaric oxygen therapy has opened a new clinic in Metairie that will allow him to provide services to even more people.
Dr. Paul Harch has been practicing the therapy, known as HBOT, for nearly 40 years, mostly at his office in Marrero. Now located at 3409 Division Street in Metairie, Dr. Harch’s new clinic will give him more usable space. One room includes five hyperbaric chambers separated by privacy curtains and with a large TV above each one. The set-up also allows Dr. Harch to place wireless, Bluetooth-enabled caps on each patient to monitor their brain activity and adjust pressure and oxygen dosages as needed.
“This is a gene therapy for the treatment of wounds and inflammatory conditions,” Dr. Harch said. “The largest clusters that are turned on are growth and repair genes and anti-inflammatory genes. The largest clusters that are turned off are the ones that cause inflammation and cell death. Every time a person goes into a chamber, you’re stimulating growth of tissue, inhibiting inflammation, and turning off cell death.”
Although HBOT has been practiced for decades, Dr. Harch said it has evolved more recently to become specifically tailored to individuals, since different amounts of pressure and oxygen can affect people differently.
Dr. Harch was originally training in Colorado to become a surgeon when a car accident derailed his plans. A colleague encouraged him to apply for a temporary job in Louisiana to work in emergency medicine. In the New Orleans area, he learned about HBOT, mainly its uses to treat divers suffering from decompression sickness. Intrigued, Dr. Harch began using the therapy and believed it could be applied to other brain injuries as well. Clinical treatment and research studies in animals and humans commenced.
Today, Dr. Harch treats patients with traumatic brain injuries, strokes, dementia and Alzheimer’s, among other conditions. He also works with children who have experienced near-drowning events, as well as those with autism, birth injuries, learning disabilities and developmental challenges. Patients from all 49 other states and 51 countries have traveled to Louisiana to seek Dr. Harch and his services.
Dr. Harch said most hyperbaric chamber sessions last 45 to 60 minutes. If a patient undergoes HBOT soon after experiencing an injury or event, one session may be enough to see improvements. In other cases, a patient may undergo multiple sessions. It’s all part of Dr. Harch’s individually tailored approach to each particular case.
“The types of improvements we see depend on the patient’s deficits,” he explained. “They can make cognitive gains. Their quality of life may improve because they have better memory, attention, concentration, and ability to socialize and communicate. With chronic stroke patients who are paralyzed on one side of the body, we usually see improvements in their leg, shoulder and facial functions. Their improved mobility can have a large effect on their quality of life. They may see their speech improve. If we can get to someone early enough, they may be able to return to work, depending on the degree of their injury.”
In addition to treating divers, Dr. Harch has helped people with a wide range of injuries and conditions. He helped a New Orleans child who nearly drowned while on vacation in Florida. A Louisiana boxer sought out Dr. Harch’s colleagues and Dr. Harch after experiencing problems more than two decades after his last fight. A Vietnam veteran suffered daily migraines for nearly 50 years before HBOT helped relieve his discomfort.Dr. Harch noted that HBOT does not provide a complete repair of the brain after an injury, particularly if the treatment takes place after several months or years. However, the therapy does stimulate the growth of new tissue and helps repair injured tissue, which leads to the improvements. Patients can also continue taking prescribed medications while undergoing HBOT, since there have been very few noted adverse reactions.
“What excites me is that the awareness and application of this therapy is becoming much more accepted and commonplace,” Dr. Harch said. “There’s still resistance because there’s always been a foundational principle in neurology that there’s nothing that can be done for a brain injury. We’ve shown that that is not the case and that this therapy can have a positive impact on people’s lives.”