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Health Team

Oxygen treatment at Duke saves girl's leg from amputation

Posted June 23, 2011 1:54 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2011 10:38 p.m. EDT

— Care at Duke University Hospital and her own determination helped a 13-year-old Virginia girl make a dramatic comeback after nearly losing both legs in an ATV accident in January, her doctors said.

Makayla Clary, of South Hill, Va., was a passenger on an ATV that suddenly tipped over.

"When it happened, it was kind of like in slow motion," Makayla said.

"I initially found her at the accident and had to lift the ATV off of her," her mother, Cheri Clay, said.

A helicopter carried Makayla to Duke hospital.

There, doctors said her legs were crushed and had severe cuts and swelling. It looked as if her right leg might need to be amputated, but her surgical team recommended waiting four more weeks, Duke plastic surgeon Dr. Detlev Erdman said.

During that time, Makayla underwent additional therapy, including hyperbaric oxygen treatments. In those, a person breathes pure oxygen in a sealed chamber with a pressure 1½ to three times greater than the normal atmosphere.

"With hyperbaric oxygen, we can actually decrease the swelling while simultaneously providing oxygen for those tissues which are not getting an adequate supply of oxygen," said Dr. Bret Stolp, with Duke Hyperbaric Medicine.

Makayla spent two hours a day for two weeks in a hyperbaric chamber in pressure equivalent to diving 33 feet below sea level. A head tent fed her 100 percent oxygen.

The treatment accelerated Makayla's treatment and helped save both her legs.

Recently, she was able to drop her crutches and take a few steps on her own.

"She took three steps towards me, and we just hugged and cried," Clay said. "To go from an injury where half her leg is basically missing to having almost a complete limb now, it's amazing."

Makayla said her big motivation to get better is to return to the softball field, where she plays catcher on her school and recreation center teams.