02/13/2012 4:53PM

Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to review hyperbaric chamber safety procedures

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Hagyard Equine Medical Institute has closed its hyperbaric chamber in order “to complete an extensive review of our safety protocols and procedures with the assistance of the manufacturer,” the Lexington veterinary hospital said in an announcement posted Monday afternoon on its Facebook page.

The statement said that although the unit “has an impeccable safety record,” it would remain closed “until further notice” in response to a fatal incident on Feb. 10 in Ocala, Fla., in which a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the Kesmarc facility exploded. According to local press accounts of that accident, Jacqueline Mars’s eventing horse Landmark’s Legendary Affaire, who was not tranquilized, became fractious in in the hyperbaric chamber and kicked off a protective covering that had been placed over his shoes. The two Kesmarc employees who were monitoring the horse’s treatment from outside the chamber attempted to shut the unit down, but before they could the horse’s shod hoof reportedly struck the side of the chamber, igniting a spark that caused the explosion.

The explosion killed one of the employees, 28-year-old Erica Marshall and the horse. The second employee, former Del Mar intern Sorcha Moneley, was hospitalized with injuries including head trauma.

According to the website for Veterinary Hyperbaric Oxygen-VHO2, the Lexington-based company is the manufacturer of both the Kesmarc Florida and Hagyard units.

“We are proud that our hyperbaric medicine team received their training and certification at an Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society-approved course,” the Hagyard statement read. The clinic added that its hyperbaric chamber’s director, Dr. Nathan Slovis, and safety officer, Lynne Hewlett, “are certified as both human and veterinary hyperbaric technologists.”

Hyperbaric chambers allow a patient to breathe in unusually high concentrations of oxygen in an environment of increased pressure, which proponents say increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and can promote healing in diseased or injured tissue. Fire or explosion is a risk with their use, because the oxygen-rich pressurized environment requires less energy for ignition.