It was devastating enough when poor circulation forced Jerry Beneteau, 67, to have his left leg amputated at the thigh in March.
Then weeks later, sores festered into the bone of his right leg — perhaps calling for a second amputation.
"I was going to be on the street corner selling pencils," Beneteau, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, said facetiously.
Instead of facing life as a double-amputee, Beneteau now is considered a good candidate for a prosthetic left leg instead of an amputation.
The grandfather and former mechanic was treated at Mesa General Hospital’s new wound care center — one of a growing number of such facilities in the East Valley.
Chandler Regional Hospital recently announced the opening of its wound center.
Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital’s 20-yearold wound center is growing, and administrators at Banner Baywood Medical Center’s facility say the 1 1 /2-year-old east Mesa facility is operating at capacity.
Wound care is in hot demand. An aging population is subject to bed sores. Increasing rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease mean more tough-to-cure sores on feet and legs, said Sue Hill, director of Baywood’s wound center.
"With the population we have in the East Valley, there is a tremendous need for wound treatment as patients age," Hill said. "We save many limbs instead of ending up with amputations. We can give a patient back their life."
About 135,000 amputations occur annually in the United Sates; 70 percent of amputations of lower extremities are caused by disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Amputations are so feared that patients would rather live with painful, crippling sores for decades before seeking care, experts say.
When amputations are inevitable, they often leave the patient depressed and socially isolated, said Dr. Barbara Barker, medical director of Mesa General’s wound center who is certified in hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
"People will go for years (without care) because they are so terrified of losing a leg," Barker said.
Appropriate wound care also requires being cost-savvy. Long-standing sores often require dressings not covered by health insurance, Hill said. She added that services helpful to amputees are costly as well.
Wound treatments can include special dressings, pressure wraps and antibiotics.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are also gaining popularity, remedying the cause of sores — insufficient blood flow, and therefore oxygen.
Mesa General and Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn have hyperbaric oxygen facilities.
Chandler Regional plans to add chambers next year.
In hyperbaric oxygen facilities, wound patients are hoisted into 8-foot-long raised acrylic cylinders, which are filled with pure oxygen. The air pressure is equivalent to 60 feet.
The session delivers to the patient’s body a high-dose of healing oxygen.
Patients are usually prescribed 20 two-hour sessions, completed six days per week over more than three weeks.
Breathing the pressurized, pure oxygen can leave the patient lightheaded but energized, Barker said.
A 1994 study presented to the American Diabetic Association found that wound patients who received hyperbaric oxygen treatments in addition to standard care had a limb salvage rate of 72 percent, versus 53 percent for those who had not received this treatment.
Mesa General’s two $1 million hyperbaric oxygen chambers have a waiting list even though the wound center opened just six weeks ago. Treatments are $1,300 per session, but are covered by Medicare and most insurance companies, Barker said.
After a series of hyperbaric sessions, Beneteau’s right leg is intact.
And with a prosthetic left leg, he can return to driving, his nightly milelong walk with his wife, Marilyn, and "putzing around the garage" completing woodworking projects, he said.