Could Oxygen Therapy Have Saved Robin Williams?

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014 04:12 PM

By William Maxfield, M.D.

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The predominant news story for the past several weeks has been the suicide of actor Robin Williams, who died of asphyxiation on August 11. One question that has been raised is whether or not Williams’ suicide was related to the heart surgery he underwent a few years ago.
 
The medical community has been aware of the correlation between cognitive defects and surgery for many years. A report published by Duke University Medical Center showed that approximately 40 percent of patients who undergo a cardiac operation suffer some form of cognitive defect after the surgery. A second report a couple of years later showed that even with less extensive surgical procedures, such as joint replacement, there is a significant incidence of cognitive defect.
 
A study at a San Antonio, Texas hospital also showed the correlation several years ago. However, the data was so controversial that the material was never published, and the investigator who conducted the research had to leave the hospital. But because that the study was funded by one of my patient’s foundations, I was shown the data. The documentation is substantial.
 
I have found that the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) prior to and after surgery decreases the incidence of cognitive problems.
 
There is also data on increased incidence of suicide among our active military and veterans. What I think has not been appreciated is that the exposure to a blast can have the same effect as bad scuba dive.
 
When subways were being dug in Europe, there was a high incidence of Caisson’s disease, a decompression illness often referred to as “the bends.” Those patients also had a high incidence of suicide. 
 
When HBOT is used to treat these conditions, results have been very good.
 
Experimental animal data concerning blast exposure has shown that machine gun fire and antitank fire can cause air bubbles in the blood, which then go to the brain and produce the same kind of damage as compression illness.
 
A number of veterans who were told that their symptoms were psychological (post-traumatic stress disorder or other diagnoses) have been treated successfully with HBOT. Before treatment, a SPECT brain scan was performed on the patients, showing their brains to be markedly abnormal. Many of these veterans had already attempted suicide.
 
To my knowledge, none of the patients who received HBOT have attempted suicide. When HBOT has been used, follow-up SPECT brain scans objectively documented the clinical improvement that the majority of these patients experienced with HBOT. It is my belief, therefore, that we need to utilize SPECT brain scanning to document brain injury in patients with blast exposure and with cognitive defects after surgery.
 
While it is not known whether or not Robin Williams depression was related to his cardiac operation, data indicate that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be an effective treatment for preventing the cognitive defects that may have led to his suicide.
 
For more information on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, go to newsmax.com/HBOT.

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William Maxfield, M.D., is a board-certified physician in hyperbaric medicine, radiology, and nuclear medicine. He has served on the faculties of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, and LSU Medical School.
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