Dana Feldman’s story at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center at Valley Stream began when she was rushed to the emergency room after her dog Sarge, a Cairn Terrier, bit off a portion of her ear. It was 2012, Dana was 21 years old, newly graduated from SUNY Cortland and unsure of her future. Her immediate future, however, would include plastic surgery, a hospital stay and eventually treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.
“I had Dr. Brahmbhatt and Dr. Sasson taking care of me. Dr. Sasson was my plastic surgeon -- he actually wasn’t in the hospital at the time. They called him to come in and he had already left but he turned right around and came back.” Dana recalled.
“I got a call from one of the emergency room doctors, very upset that a piece of a young woman’s ear had been bitten off by a large dog,” said Homayoun Sasson, MD, director of hand and plastic surgery at LIJ Valley Stream. “In situations like this, when it’s an amputation of a piece of body, whether it’s a finger, a hand, foot or, in this case, an ear, time is of the essence. Every minute counts as to how fast you can put the piece back on.”
“I remember when Dr. Sasson was attaching the flap in the ER and he was talking to my mother over me,” Dana recalled. “My mom said, ‘Well what would you do if this was your daughter?’ And he said, `I would do this,’ and so we went with that option. So that was like a great experience for me.”
Another surgeon would soon be by Dana’s side, Devandra Brahmbhatt, MD, medical director of the wound care and hyperbaric program at LIJ Valley Stream.
“Dr. Sasson called me after he had done the surgery,” Dr. Brahmbhatt explained. “He told me that there is a young pretty girl whose ear was chewed off by her own dog. He said I put it back together in the emergency room, but it doesn’t look very good and I’m not sure it’s going to survive.”
In fact, part of Dana’s ear was turning blue due to the lack of blood flow to the reattached portion. Both doctors were afraid she was going to lose it, but Dr. Brahmbhatt had a plan.
“The only offer I had was to try hyperbaric oxygen, we had nothing to lose,” said Dr. Brahmbhatt. “I told Dana what our plan was and she was one of the coolest patients I had. For a young girl to accept whatever the outcome would be, even if the ear wasn’t going to survive and she might lose a part of the ear -- and she was perfectly ok with it. She had 100 percent trust and the next day we started the hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”
After the first treatment, or dive in the chamber, Dana’s ear went from bluish purple to pink, which encouraged her doctors, but it was just a start. Dr. Brahmbhatt prescribed 50 dives in the chamber for 50 days straight.
There was one problem: the treatment center was only open Monday through Friday; it was closed on the weekend and Dana needed a continuum of care every day.
“For her, the whole center was coming together. Everybody was rooting for her and so the technician said, `I’m prepared to come on Saturday and Sunday.’ So that’s what we did,” Dr. Brahmbatt Said. “On Saturday and Sunday, I came in and the technician came in and we opened the chamber and treated her.”
For two hours every day, for 50 days straight, Dana laid in the quiet of the hyperbaric chamber as 100 percent oxygen under pressure surrounded her. The treatment raises the oxygen concentration in the blood and helps facilitate new blood vessel formation or angiogenesis.
“We were able to save 80-90 percent of her ear, including the cartilage, which I think is a great save. I think it would have been a definite failure otherwise. I think hyperbaric contributed a lot after the great job that Dr. Sasson did putting it back together,“ said Dr. Brahmbhatt.
On a warm July day this summer, Dana took a trip back to LIJ Valley Stream, where she first met Dr. Sasson and Dr. Brahmbhatt. She wanted to see them again four years after they cared for her with great urgency, calm and expertise. She wanted to tell them that she changed her direction in life, because of them.
“After spending about two weeks in the hospital, I kind of self-reflected and realized how these doctors took care of me. And seeing them all collaborate and work together to help me, it propelled me to go into the medical field,” said Dana. “So I’m going to study to be a physician assistant in the fall. And I can thank all of the people here who helped me and contributed to that and affected my whole life basically.”
“It makes me very humble and it’s the greatest compliment you can have to inspire someone, and I think it’s the whole hospital, the whole staff and the care she got,” said Dr. Brahmbhatt. “I think a lot of people went beyond the call of duty to care for her because she was such a wonderful person.”