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Daemen clinic heals wounds that won’t close

For Richard Maslona, it was like slogging around with 5-pound weights wrapped around his legs.

Fluid brought on by a stroke in 2011 collected in Maslona’s right calf, which swelled. The fluid seeped through his pants, often staining them. Embarrassed, the retired 68-year-old Amherst town employee and former volunteer fireman resorted to purchasing packages of wound dressings at a local medical supply store to try and contain the leaking.

He’d cut up two wrappings – which Maslona jokingly likened to adult diapers – and bind them with tape around his leg. He’d stash spare dressings in his car. Repeated three times a day at $6.95 for a pack of 12, the homemade fix cost upward of $40 weekly.

“It was like you had a faucet on,” he said of the fluid that leaked from his calf.

At a friend’s suggestion, Maslona ventured to the Daemen College Physical Therapy Wound Care Clinic, a modest, two-room operation on Union Road in Cheektowaga that uses physical therapy techniques to heal wounds that won’t close, such as open sores, ulcers and diabetic wounds. After 11 sessions over six weeks, Maslona’s sores closed, ending the year-long inconvenience that disrupted his professional and personal life.

“My legs are small,” Maslona said, describing the treatment’s relatively rapid success as he tugged at the bottom of his jeans by way of explanation.

The clinic, a 600-square-foot space outfitted with six treatment rooms, will debut to the public at an official grand opening Wednesday.

Spearheaded by Daemen College, an institution with more than 25 years conducting wound-care research, the clinic has served 114 patients from Western New York since quietly opening in September. Approximately one-third of patients, including Maslona, have been discharged with their wounds completely healed.

A quarter of the physical therapy curriculum is devoted to the skin, making physical therapists an often-overlooked asset to wound treatment, said clinic director Fred Pordum. Using small, portable equipment, patients are hooked up to devices that generate cell growth for brief sessions conducted once or twice a week.

“We let them cook for 45 minutes,” Pordum joked as he tended to 53-year-old Allen Maxwell on a recent morning. Maxwell lay on one of the clinic’s maroon beds as a machine on a utility cart whirred nearby, working on his leg sore.

“It’s warmth, you feel the warmth of the current,” Maxwell said, a newspaper folded across his stomach.

It isn’t the flashiest medical technique, Pordum admits, but it’s effective – and inexpensive. On average, treating a venous ulcer, which occurs due to poor blood circulation in the legs, is a $9,000 undertaking, compared to an average $1,000 cost at the clinic, he said.

Finding the most effective treatment for a wound can be a long, drawn-out process, sometimes forcing patients to endure symptoms as the wound worsens. The clinic follows a collaborative model, eliminating the medical back and forth by keeping everyone involved in the conversation, from primary care physician to physical therapist. It’s not a rivalry of treatments, Pordum emphasized, but a sum of all parts working together that involves a patient’s doctor, physical therapist and, for some, a dietitian.

Old fashioned, face-to-face communication is a cornerstone.

“Getting people physically talking about the same thing, somehow, as great as technology is, it improves the outcome,” Pordum said.

Days shy of its public opening, Pordum anticipates a need for the clinic to eventually expand as prospective patients learn of its work. Stacks of brown boxes packed with different brands of gauze lean against Pordum’s office walls – the only room aside from the space where patients are treated. The clinic operates from two back rooms leased out of the Center for Skin Integrity.

Eventually, the clinic hopes to broaden its reach to underserved communities, Pordum said. But the work isn’t constrained to a clinical practice. That’s just one element of a three-pronged effort that’s also part research and part academic.

Michael Brogan, Daemen College’s vice president for academic affairs, anticipates the clinic’s work will eventually incorporate the herbs and topical applications of Eastern medicine.

“I see us growing in treatment opportunities and inclusion, but also in research areas that bridge Western and Eastern philosophies,” Brogan said by phone from China, where he was meeting with officials from Beijing’s University of Chinese Medicine.

He added that he hopes to work with local HMOs to help financially sustain the clinic.

For now, the clinic is kept afloat by grants, including more than $530,000 from Western New York’s John R. Oishei Foundation.

And patients, like Maslona, the Williamsville resident who shelled out $40 weekly to contain his wound from home before visiting the clinic, are thankful for it.

“I offered them doughnuts, they wouldn’t take doughnuts,” he recalled, his right leg propped up on his living room coffee table. “Offered them coffee, they wouldn’t take coffee.”