Carolyn Crawford still remembers the wire poking into her right ankle and leaving a tiny hole, even though that was a long, long time ago. That tiny hole grew to be a gaping wound a couple of inches across that just won't go away.
"It's been 45 years I've been dealing with this thing -- off and on, off and on, off and on," said Crawford, 70, who suffers from vein problems in that leg.
There are a lot of people like her with chronic, hard-to-treat wounds, with many more to come.
There are an estimated 9,400 chronic wound patients within a 20-mile radius of University Hospital, said vascular surgeon Bobby Mendes. There are 7 million nationwide, and that number is expected to double in the next 10 years, said Marilyn Bowcutt, vice president of patient care services at University.
Mendes and Bowcutt were part of a presentation to University's board, which voted last week to work with Diversified Clinical Services on an expanded Wound Care Center, spending $380,000 for new clinic space and equipment.
Chronic wounds are more common in the elderly, diabetics and the obese, all of whom are increasing in number. said Mendes, who will serve as medical director for University's wound clinic.
"We're not going to have enough wound centers to take care of all of the people," he said.
Other hospitals have already expanded their chronic wound care. The Joseph M. Still Wound and Burn Clinic at Doctors Hospital expanded from 10 to 20 treatment rooms in January based on projected need, said Tanya Simpson, assistant vice president for burn services.
"That was one of the reasons we doubled in size our new wound care clinic," she said.
The clinic typically sees about 60 patients a day but it can be as much as 100 a day, with half of those usually suffering from chronic wounds, Simpson said.
The center has 30 years of experience in treating wounds and burns and often participates in research for new products, she said.
Trinity Hospital of Augusta added a second hyperbaric chamber for its chronic wound clinic in late 2008, spokeswoman Rachel Covar said. And the need is certainly there, said Rick Spires, director of the Trinity Wound Healing Center.
"There's several factors going on that maybe 10 years ago didn't exist quite to the degree they do today," he said.
That increase in patients has also meant more research and more therapies becoming available, said Kris d'Entremont, charge nurse for the Wound Healing Institute of Carolina at Aiken Regional Medical Centers.
"There is quite the market out there for wound care," she said. "There's always somebody trying the next new thing, coming up with something new that's going to heal the wounds."
In Crawford's case, it comes from baby cows.
The bovine fetal cells, marketed under the brand name PriMatrix, has formed a smooth white patch across her ankle wound and little red clumps of her own skin are starting to grow in over it. Mendes has been treating her since August and might have finally come up with a way to vanquish her longtime foe.
"I think we're just about getting there," she said.
The two joked around easily inside the cramped exam room as Mendes carefully probes around the wound to make sure it is attaching to the wound bed below.
"We are trying to move up to a place where we can take care of her in a much better fashion," he said.
Mendes and others will get that with a renovated 2,500-square feet, with room for four hyperbaric chambers, on the second floor of the hospital. It is scheduled to open sometime in September.
"With the addition of this wound center here in September I think we are going to provide more to the community," Mendes said. "But I think that very rapidly we're going to find that we're going to have to expand. And there's going to be more centers that are necessary."
Long before that happens, however, Mendes hopes Crawford's wound will be healed. He told Crawford he will give her a dance when that happens.
"That's what I want for my poster child," he said.
"No, your poster mama," Crawford said, laughing.
"We're going to have our dance, I promise," Mendes said.