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Breath of Hope in Radiation Bungle

Breath of hope for girl in radiation bungle
By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent
(Filed: 16/02/2006)

A teenage schoolgirl who was given 19 potentially fatal radiation overdoses is showing signs of improvement after only two sessions in an oxygen chamber.

Lisa Norris, 15, was celebrating her recovery from a brain tumour last week when consultants told her she was accidentally given an overdose every time she received radiotherapy for the condition.

She has been warned that she may suffer brain damage or paralysis because of the excess radiation, and that the blunder could prove fatal.

Her family were initially led to believe that there was no remedial treatment, and were resigned to waiting several months to learn what damage her body had suffered.

However, an expert in the use of oxygen in the treatment of a wide range of conditions offered to help after reading about the medical blunder.

Philip James, professor of hyperbaric medicine at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, got in touch with Lisa's cancer doctors and is now treating her.

He has used a hyperbaric chamber - in which patients breathe high concentrations of oxygen - to treat conditions such as post-radiation problems, burns, serious wounds and frostbite.

He said an extensive body of medical evidence supported the use of oxygen as a "natural healer", although it was not taught to medical students and was largely ignored in the National Health Service.

The NHS actually approves the use of oxygen in the treatment of the effects of radiation to the head and back. However, Prof James said that many doctors were unaware of this.

Japan has more than 1,200 hyperbaric chambers, but only four are in use in NHS hospitals. In total, Lisa will have 14 one-hour sessions inside the pressurised chamber in Dundee.

She suffered burns and scars on the back of her head because of human error at the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow. But her skin is already showing signs of improvement.

"In this situation, no one can offer any guarantee," said Prof James. "But my standard is, 'What would I do if it were my daughter?' With the exception of having to pop your ears, there is no downside to this treatment. It can only help."

He continued: "When she arrived she was unable to lie on the back of her head. That is already improving. The things we can see, we can monitor; the issues in the brain, we can't.

"This is incredibly difficult for her family and has hit her parents really hard. But Lisa is a remarkably together young lady. I think she understands exactly what she has been told and she is amazingly positive. She said she felt better as soon as the first session was completed."

Lisa, from Girvan in Ayrshire, is staying with her parents, Ken, 50, and Liz, 49, in a hotel in Dundee - at the expense of the NHS - and has taken music and homework into the chamber.

Prof James said it was ironic that the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, where she was accidentally given the overdose, had got rid of its hyperbaric chamber 10 years ago.

Excess radiation damages the blood vessels in the nervous system and can cause low-level leakage of blood components in the brain and spinal cord, potentially causing brain damage or paralysis, even after a period of years.

Treatment with oxygen increases the amount of dissolved oxygen in the circulation and can help repair blood vessels and damaged tissue.

Prof James, who spent 30 years working on decompression chambers in the oil industry, said the aim was to make the blood as red as possible, and to bring oxygen levels back to normal in tissue damaged by radiation.

He added that the emphasis in the UK was on drug-based solutions. It was unfortunate that giving oxygen was "regarded as a supplement rather than a treatment".

Before treating Lisa, he talked her family through the procedure and told them about patients who had made remarkable recoveries after being treated with oxygen.

One elderly woman in the United States, who had a leg ulcer for 40 years, was cured after 25 sessions in a chamber. In another case, a woman who suffered second-degree burns to her face made a full recovery.

"I showed Lisa that although she had a tumour removed, the surrounding tissue could be damaged and that we can help that and stabilise it," said Prof James.

Lisa's family are suing the NHS trust responsible for the overdose.

acramb@telegraph.co.uk

9 February 2006: Teenage cancer girl is given 17 killer overdoses