Texas man fights West Nile virus with oxygen therapy

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on January 26, 2013 at 1:34 PM

RICHARDSON, Texas -- Not long ago, 55-year-old Duane Schifano was so exhausted, getting out and going somewhere was nearly impossible.

"I'm a pretty active guy, very energetic," Schifano said. "And when I started really feeling down, I didn't want to do much -- just really wanted to sit on the sofa."

In August, Schifano tested positive for West Nile virus.

After months of struggling with extreme fatigue, Schifano decided to try oxygen therapy to help him recover. Six days a week for several weeks in a row, he climbs into a chamber at Hyperbaric Centers of Texas in Richardson to breathe in pure oxygen.

"Outside, you're breathing 21 percent oxygen, with a little air pollution," Dr. Afred Johnson said. "And in the hyperbaric chamber, it's 100 percent oxygen, under pressure. Like you're scuba diving."

Dr. Johnson said that pressure increases oxygen saturation in the blood 5-to-10 times, which speeds healing.

"Oxygen is the one substance that cells depend upon for life to regenerate and for rehabilitation when they are injured," Johnson said.

Hyperbaric therapy is routinely used for carbon monoxide poisoning, wound healing, and other injuries. It is unproven when it comes to West Nile virus. That means it is not covered by insurance.

A 40-hour treatment can cost $7,000 out of pocket.

"For me, it was absolutely worth it," Schifano said. "Yeah, it was expensive. But what's money when health is priceless?"

Schifano said hyperbaric oxygen therapy has given him back precious energy -- enough to work and play with his son.

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