OGDEN -- A new procedure that helps patients with nonhealing diabetic foot ulcers may have saved a South Weber woman from losing two of her toes to amputation.
Betty Patrick, 63, was swimming at a hotel when she cut her foot. Because she has diabetes, any kind of wound can become serious.
The cut turned into an ulcer, so Patrick was sent to Dr. Peter Clemens, director of clinical services at Ogden Regional Medical Center's Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center.
She was treated with Dermagraft, bioengineered human skin, which is derived from newborn foreskin tissue.
"The stem cells are grown in petri dishes and shipped frozen for our use," Clemens said. "It assists in the restoration of the dermal bed, allowing the wounds to heal."
The procedure, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for diabetic foot ulcers, is done by taking the bioengineered skin and cutting it to the size of the patient's wound, Clemens said.
The skin is then placed directly on the wound and affixed with steri strips or nonadherent dressing. The procedure takes approximately 45 minutes, and the patient does not have to be sedated.
"I watched them do the whole procedure, and it doesn't hurt at all, because I also have neuropathy, which means I can't feel a whole lot in my feet," Patrick said.
"In fact, that's one of the dangers of diabetes. You can cut your foot and not even realize it until you see that you're bleeding."
During a recent news conference, Patrick showed off her foot, which took about four weeks to heal. She said had it not been for the new procedure, she probably would have lost part of her foot.
"I think I would have lost my two toes for sure," she said. "Dermagraft is the only thing that was going to help me. I had the procedure done on two different ulcers, and I (had previously) tried to doctor it myself for six weeks. Nothing helped."
Clemens said Dermagraft is not a 100 percent cure, as each wound responds differently to the bioengineered skin.
"We are basically drugging the wound with a bunch of growth factors to help facilitate closure of the wound. I have seen bioengineered skin close a wound in as little as three treatments. On the other hand, I have sometimes seen it take upwards of 10 treatments."
More than 170 million people around the world have diabetes, according to Ogden Regional Medical Center, and the number is expected to increase to 370 million by 2025.
More than 120,000 Utah adults have the disease, and an additional 45,000 have not yet been diagnosed.
In addition, Clemens said, patients with infected foot ulcers have a 55 percent greater risk of hospitalization. He said about 50 percent of his patients are being treated for diabetic foot ulcers.
Diabetes runs in Patrick's family. Her father, daughter and granddaughter all died from complications. Her daughter was 33 at the time of her death; her granddaughter was only 14.
"Dermagraft is not a cheap procedure, but my insurance paid well," Patrick said. "If you don't have insurance, there are other ways you can get help.
"Just don't let it go. It's not worth the consequences."