Christie DeBernardis visits the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center to see a Jack Russell Terrier receive a hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment and learns much more about how HBOT and other therapies are used by the center.  

Another very popular attraction for the Thoroughbred community is KESMARC’s hyperbaric chamber, which is one of just a handful of chambers made for horses across the globe.

“I had the second chamber for horses in the world,” Johnson said. “At this point, we have done about 30,000 treatments, probably more than anybody in the world. We’ve set the protocols and have a really good understanding of how we treat these horses. They all come in with a veterinary prescription. We do a lot of recovery. We’ve treated a lot of bleeders over the years and a lot of post-operative cases. So, we utilize the hyperbaric chamber for a lot of different things.”

Hyperbaric chambers are used for people in hospitals all over the world to raise oxygen levels in the blood through the use of 100% pure oxygen.

“The chamber stimulates the immune system and STEM cell production,” Johnson said. “It potentiates antibiotics. There are a lot of bugs, like a pseudomonas, that are very sensitive to oxygen. That is a hard bug to kill. In the hyperbaric chamber, with the correct antibiotics, we can kill some of these really difficult bugs. We also make it a regular regime after throat surgeries. It is a surgery where you don’t want a lot of scarring and the hyperbaric chamber can really help with that.”

In addition, the chamber is a very useful recovery tool for horses after training or racing.

“For the racehorse, recovery is everything,” Johnson said. “I think people really underestimate these horses recovering after their races, or even sometimes after a big work. The fitter a horse is, the more suppressed their immune system is. As a horse goes through the ebb and flow of the inflammatory response while they’re in training, pretty soon the immune system quits working as efficiently. That’s why racehorses are such frail flowers.”

Johnson continued, “I think one of the hyperbaric chamber’s real benefits is that it naturally stimulates the immune system in a way the body really responds well to. It doesn’t take away the pain from an acute injury, but it does help the body stay healthy. For athletes competing at a high level, it is a great way to keep them healthy throughout their campaign.”

One horse that utilized the hyperbaric chamber regularly as a recovery tool was champion Blame, who initially came to KESMARC with a simple wound on his foot that would not clear up. Trainer Al Stall noticed such an overall improvement in the stallion due to the chamber, that he convinced the owners to continue the treatments after the wound resolved as a post-race recovery method.

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