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Cleft palate nurse gets unusual treatment for her own facial deformity



Most of Linda Dunckley's time is devoted to caring for patients with severe facial deformities, but after a small spot on her own cheek became a two-and-a-half-inch hole, it was time to care for her own.

Dunckley, a nurse for 45 years, grew up in Garden City, spending her summers at Jones Beach and her family's house on Candlewood Lake in Connecticut. Despite countless hours of water skiing and playing volleyball, summer thrills were missing one thing: protection from the rays above.

"I was born in '53," Dunckley said. “How many people were using sunblock back then? Probably very few. ”

Dunckley's job made her familiar with the dangers of suspicious changes on one's skin. It moved here to get a skin biopsy when she noticed a strange spot on her left cheek in late 2018. She tested positive for basal cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer, which is generally treatable.

Dunckley had the cancerous cells removed through Mohs surgery, which required tissue layers to be removed from the skin and examined under a microscope continuously until further cancer cells can be detected, she said.

But by the The time spent on plastic surgeon had completed Dunckley's tissue removal, which was a hole in her face, about two and a half inches wide.

With such a large wound, Dunckley needed an operation to close the opening.

Dunckley, who now resides in Setauket, is familiar with facial reconstruction. For the past 18 years, she has been the nurse coordinator at Northwell's Hagedorn Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Center in Great Neck and often works with children born with clefts and other craniofacial anomalies from the neck up.

She thought it would be surely take care of her problem.

But it didn't happen. Two small sections, each about half a centimeter deep and one inch wide combined, remained unhealed on Dunckley's cheek. "I didn't really stop my life over it," she said. "I had a bandage on my face and I went to work every day."

Still, Dunckley decided to visit the Northwell Health Comprehensive Wound Care Center, where she received an unusual, but ultimately effective treatment – hyperbaric oxygen therapy

During this treatment, 100 percent pure oxygen was given to patients via hyperbaric oxygen. chambers, which are clear, pressurized tubes that fit a narrow, reclinable hospital bed – similar to an MRI but narrower.

Breathing pure oxygen at an increased atmospheric pressure speeds up the recovery time of a patient's wounds, said Dr. Alisha Oropallo, who treated Dunckley, blood carries hyperbaric oxygen through the body, fighting bacteria as the oxygen directly enters the affected tissue areas.

The therapy is typically used to treat the wound ds of diabetic patients with foot ulcers. It's rarely done for nondiabetics.

"She had a lot of different modalities of treatment – common modalities – and there wasn't much of a choice left," Oropallo said. "We either leave her with a hole in her face, or we move forward with some adjunctive therapies to try to heal her wound." Dunckley underwent treatment for two hours a day, Monday through Friday, over a span of six weeks . She got 30 treatments overall.

They went by quickly, she said, that she could drink water, watch movies or television, or take naps throughout her sessions.

Oropallo said the success of the treatment points to a future or hyperbaric oxygen therapy beyond the realm of diabetes.

"People should realize that there are other alternatives out there, including hyperbaric oxygen treatment, to help those wounds that are very difficult to heal," she said. conditions that can be treated by hyperbaric oxygen therapy include decompression sickness, blood vessels in blood vessels, radiation injuries and serious infections, according to the Mayo Clinic

Dunckley said in her mid-20s, she started applying sunscreen, but since finding the cancerous spot – she takes it even more seriously. Her makeup has SPF 50 and she wears it daily, even in the winter. She warns others, as well: "They should be very careful, themselves."


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