High Point Enterprise
Monday, May 22, 2000 

Miracle Mountain
  By Jimmy Tomlin

  Robert Hartsoe had planned to build a few summer cabins and relax during his golden years here in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, living off the rent money the cabins would bring.

A dream one night changed his mind, and he invested his life savings in the dream instead.

Luther Krider probably should've died on a battlefield in Vietnam, where he lay shot and bleeding for some 27 hours.

A dream  a vision from God, Krider says  convinced him his work on Earth was not yet finished. He survived, and now, all these years later, he believes he's finally fulfilling God's mission for him.

Jill Bonovich, a young mother from Appleton, Wis., dreams of seeing her 2-year-old son, Sierra Coulter, live beyond the limits that cerebral palsy has placed upon him. Will he walk? Will he talk? Maybe his impaired vision will get better. Any improvement would be welcome.

These three very different dreams converge at the Children's Hyperbaric Trust Center, an alternative treatment facility for children with cerebral palsy. The facility, located next to Hartsoe's home in the tiny Ashe County town of Creston, is nothing special to look at  it's basically a mobile home that's been converted to house a 13-foot hyperbaric oxygen chamber  but this place has become so much more than just an old trailer sitting in a gravel drive. Most motorists winding along Peak Road have no idea of the dreams, the hope, the prayers and the love upon which the center was built.

One day, Hartsoe believes, they will know. People are already coming here from across the nation  and the center has barely been operating a month.

By the time the dream has completely unfolded, lots of people will know the story of  as Hartsoe has affectionately come to call this place  Miracle Mountain.

* * * *

Robert Hartsoe's dream can be directly traced to his grandson, 31/2-year-old Garrett Neugent, who has had cerebral palsy since birth.

Garrett had been receiving traditional therapy for cerebral palsy patients  physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy  with limited results. A couple of years ago, Garrett's mother, Wendy, began hearing stories about children with cerebral palsy benefiting greatly from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

"Children were not able to talk very well, eat, things like that, and when they came back from their HBO therapy, they were able to do those things better," says Wendy, who lives in nearby Sparta.

She immediately began researching HBO therapy on the Internet, talking with other parents whose children had received the therapy, and decided to give it a try. She took Garrett to a center in Baltimore for a series of two-a-day, 75-minute treatments.

"After about 15 treatments," Wendy says, "we started to notice that Garrett's hands, which had always turned outward and were fisted, began to turn in, and he opened his hands. He could never hold on to an object, but now he could. He began to wave bye-bye, which he had never done before."

Garrett also possessed better strength and control of his trunk and head, she says. No longer did his chin rest on his chest all the time.

He's also able to bear weight, a significant step toward someday being able to walk.

Hartsoe noticed something else different about his grandson. "When Garrett left for his treatments, he couldn't make eye contact," he says. "When he came back, he looked me straight in the eye and smiled."

Garrett received 36 treatments in Baltimore at a cost of about $5,000, then 32 more at a California facility for about $4,000. The Neugents held fund-raisers to offset the costs  standard insurance doesn't cover HBO therapy for cerebral palsy  but that money eventually ran out, and the treatments ended.

That's when Hartsoe, a 56-year-old former business consultant, had his dream about building an HBO therapy facility for Garrett and other children with cerebral palsy.

"I normally don't even dream," Hartsoe says, "but I woke up and I knew exactly what I was going to do. I went to my wife Judy and said, 'We're gonna have to put in a hyperbaric center for these kids.'"

The chamber alone cost Hartsoe about $50,000, he says, requiring him to take a mortgage on his house and dip into his savings.

"But," he quickly adds, "I can't think of a single thing I could've done with that money that would've given me as much joy as this has."

* * * *

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that delivers pure oxygen to the body's tissues, furthering its ability to kill germs and facilitate healing. It is commonly used in the treatment of such ailments as burns, bone infections and slow-healing wounds.

Some professional sports teams even use HBO therapy to speed the healing of players' injuries.

During treatment sessions, patients breathe 100-percent oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure, which is controlled and monitored. The sensation is the equivalent of being about 25 feet below

sea level (sessions, in fact, are actually called "dives").

Thus far, the medical community has not officially endorsed HBO therapy for cerebral palsy patients, but some practitioners are beginning to see its benefits, Hartsoe says.

"It makes sense, because oxygen was put here by God, and it's the one natural thing we have that is absolutely vital to life," he says.

"If we lose our oxygen, we die. So He's provided a natural means of giving these kids back their oxygen, because most cerebral palsy is a result of brain damage from lack of oxygen at birth."

Theory is fine, but seeing is believing, Hartsoe says. "And," he adds, "I've seen it."

* * * *

Luther Krider, a volunteer technician at the center, gently cradles the limp body of 2-year-old Sierra Coulter in his arms.

Though parents usually sit with their children in the hyperbaric chamber, Sierra's mother, Jill Bonovich, cannot because she is pregnant, and the atmospheric change could endanger the unborn child. Thus, the 53-year-old Krider gets to play surrogate mom for a couple of hours.

Medical director Mari Suggs, a registered nurse, has already checked Sierra's ears  and Krider's  to ensure they haven't been damaged from previous dives; she has checked his vital signs, too. As the dive begins, Krider watches closely for signs of discomfort on Sierra's face, because the boy can't express pain very well and the goal is to make sure he's not uncomfortable.

Outside the chamber, which somewhat resembles a submarine, another volunteer technician  Wilma Krider, Luther's wife  slowly, methodically increases the atmospheric pressure, all the while watching a monitor of the inside of the chamber to make sure Sierra and two other patients are doing OK.

When the dive is complete  the process takes about 15 minutes  a futuristic-looking hood is slipped over each child's head and secured to a neck ring. The oxygen is then turned on and pumped through air hoses into each child's helmet, so that he or she is breathing the pure oxygen. They do this for about an hour, reading books or watching videos through a porthole to pass the time, and are then slowly brought back to regular atmospheric pressure. Suggs checks everyone's ears again for redness that would indicate damage from the pressure.

In addition to Suggs, the center has a doctor on call around the clock, Hartsoe says. The 10 technicians, all volunteers, have undergone a rigorous, six-week training course conducted by a hyperbarics expert from the Navy.

"Our motto is 'Do no harm,'" Hartsoe says. "We would not be using HBO therapy in any way whatsoever if it was hurting the child."

* * * *

Sierra has shown only slight improvement, but he's only had about a dozen sessions so far. It sometimes takes 20 or 30 sessions before a child will show signs of progress, experts say.

Sierra seems more alert than usual, his mother says, and he has begun grasping things with his hands.

Merry Lynn Gonzales, of Hillsboro, Ore., says her 21/2-year-old daughter, Grace, has less spasticity in her legs and is more verbal than she was before her sessions began.

Elizabeth Lovern, of Wilkesboro, says her daughter, 10-year-old Tina Hudson, is also more verbal.

A West Virginia child who had been struggling with words put together a sentence for the first time: "Mommy, I love you."

The families who bring their children to Miracle Mountain know not to expect a miracle of biblical proportions. Instead, they find miracles in the small changes they see in their children.

"If anybody thinks they're gonna bring their child here when he's not walking and he's going to leave here walking, they're badly mistaken," Hartsoe says.

"But if that child is able to take hold of a spoon someday and put a bite of food in his own mouth without somebody doing it for him, how can you put a dollar value on something like that?"

* * * *

Hartsoe recognizes, of course, that many families cannot afford the expensive HBO therapy.

That's why he created The Garrett Foundation  named for his grandson  to offer financial assistance to families who need it.

Because a series of treatment sessions lasts about three weeks, Hartsoe lines up local housing for families at a reduced cost. He also provides free long-distance service for families and makes local transportation available to them.

"They're wonderful here," says Merry Lynn Gonzales. "We actually have one of these chambers about 15 minutes from my house (in Oregon), but we couldn't afford it. It was cheaper to come here."

Future plans call for a full-scale hyperbaric treatment center atop the real Miracle Mountain, a large peak situated on Hartsoe's 60-plus acres of land. A 4-foot-high white cross stands at the top of Miracle Mountain, designating where the center and an adjoining chapel will be built. He also hopes to offer a therapeutic horseback riding program and build a home for difficult-to-adopt children, such as those who have cerebral palsy.

Hartsoe and his team of volunteers see the hand of God in the creation of Miracle Mountain, explaining that they have prayed for wisdom and guidance every step of the way. The miracles, they say, are in the results.

"If God's not present here, I don't know where He is," Luther Krider says. "It's just one miracle after another here, and I'm just glad to be a small part of it."

Hartsoe agrees.

"It's a very humbling experience to carry out the work of God, especially when you never expected it to happen to you," he says.

"But you've got to give the glory where it belongs. This is God's work, not mine."

Staff writer Jimmy Tomlin can be contacted
at 888-3579 or jtomlin@hpe.com.

"New machine adds to the hopes"

(Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of stories about Creston residents Robert and Judy Hartsoe and the hyperbaric oxygen treatment center called "Miracle Mountain" they are developing on Peak Road.)

by Linda Burchette
Assistant Editor

Robert and Judy Hartsoe didn't realize just how many new friends they would have in just five short months, or how much impact their dream would have on those new friends' lives.

When the Hartsoe's opened the Children's Hyperbaric Center at Miracle Mountain in Creston this past spring, people began coming from near and far. Now they come from more than 22 states and several foreign countries.

What is attracting all these people to the tiny hamlet of Creston in the mountains of Ashe County? It's the hope of a better life for children whose own short lives have been physically limited by such conditions as cerebral palsy, multiple schlerosis, brain injury and oxygen deprivation.

Miracle Mountain offers just that; miracles to families who thought there was little hope. The Hartsoe's offer hope and much more. They offer practical solutions to difficult situations.

The hyperbaric oxygen therapy, known as HBO therapy, provided at Miracle Mountain, amounts to breathing pure, 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber. This treatment provides therapeutic benefits to tissues deprived of oxygen, helps in healing wounds and increases blood vessel formation. In essence, it gives back what clients have lost - oxygen.

The results of this treatment - done in sessions of usually two treatments per day for several weeks - have included increased movement among patients, improved communication and grasping ability. For example, parents of children who have taken the treatments say their children are more flexible, can communicate better, eat on their own and rest more peacefully.

All these things are improving quality of life for patients. But Robert Hartsoe doesn't want to stop there. He has plans for a bigger, better facility with not only increased HBO therapy but other therapies as well.

During the everyday efforts of providing HBO therapy and amid plans to build a bigger facility on the hill above the current trailer, along Peak Road, the Hartsoe's went to Atlanta for the World Congress & Exposition on Disabilities. It was there, earlier this month, that they met a man whose own invention is already expanding the therapy programs at Miracle Mountain.

Larry Bohanan of Knoxville, Tenn., president of Quadriciser, Motorized Therapy System, has brought two of his "patterning" machines to Miracle Mountain for patient use. These machines, developed for adult quadraplegics and paraplegics, are now being adapted by Bohanan for children - Miracle Mountain's children.

Patients using the autoquad patterning machine, or Quadriciser, sit in a padded seat while the feet and lower legs are supported in separate cradles. The hands grasp handles (with the use of patented Velcro gloves for patients without grasping capability) attached to small trapezes while a motor-driven flywheel turns cords and pulleys to move the extremities through a smooth and functional range of motion.

The motion is similar to walking and swinging the arms, Bohanan explains. This type of movement helps exercise muscles the patients cannot move themselves. The machine provides a type of therapy for quadraplegics or victims of cerebral palsy that generally takes five people to manipulate by hand - with one for each leg and arm and one or two for the head and neck.

The manual manipulation, or patterning, explains Bohanan, can involve five people doing this therapy for one hour six times a day. That can be just too many people in someone's home every day.

The machine's invention was inspired by Bohanan's own father, who spent nine years in a coma and was permanently disabled due to a reaction to a DPT shot; a cousin left paralyzed following a motorcycle accident; and by a boy named Andy Dyer who suffered a traumatic brain injury at 3 years old and was not expected to be able to walk, talk or eat again. All benefited from the Quadriciser which improved their flexibility, range of movement, ability to eat by themselves and communicate.

This therapy, Bohanan said, is the perfect complement to the Hartsoe's HBO therapy at Miracle Mountain.

"It's a wonderful combination of using hyperbarics to improve oxygen flow and brain connections, and autoquad patterning to stimulate muscles fed by the oxygen therapy," he said.

What Bohanan wanted to do when he met Robert and Judy, he said, was to devise a child-sized version of the Quadriciser. So he took the adult version and placed a child safety seat in the regular seat. That provided a way for larger children to use the machine. He also has a toddler size he is still developing for smaller children. Both versions have been leased to Miracle Mountain for use by its patients. The added treatment is already popular with the parents bringing their children for HBO therapy. And the children seem to like it too. You can see it on their faces.

Holly Hammons of Manchester, Ky., has a big smile on her face as she is strapped in and begins using the Quadriciser at Miracle Mountain. Her mother, Pauline, watches closely.

"You can tell she likes it," Pauline says. "Look at that smile."

Parents crowd around the machines and talk excitedly as the children are manipulated. A small boy in the toddler size machine turns his head and grins broadly as the cords and pulleys work his arms and legs. "Look at that!" his mother says. "It's hard to get him to smile. Look how he's smiling!"

It seems everyone is all smiles at this new addition to Miracle Mountain. Especially Larry Bohanan as he sees what his invention is doing for these kids.

You wouldn't know he was used to seeing smiles. As a professional magician, Bohanan travels around the world helping bring the message of Jesus to people through magic skills.

His technology skills were enhanced by 28 years as a supervisor in graphic design and technology transfer for Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

"Out there, you don't say, this can't be done," Bohanan said. "You say, how are we going to do this?"

In the next article, learn more about the Hartsoe's plans to expand Miracle Mountain, the need for volunteers and the future of this facility.

For more information about Miracle Mountain, call 385-1775 or e-mail to: MM@ashecounty.com.

The following story originated in the Winston-Salem Journal and was picked up by several newspapers across NC as well as other states.  The original reporter gave us the impression she wanted to do a very positive story on Miracle Mountain and we later found out that she was the Medical Editor and was looking for a negative article at the requests of MD's in NC who opposed the use of Oxygen therapy for brain injury.   The inaccuracies of the report are evident and almost laughable.  Almost.            RH

Oxygen treatment at issue

The Associated Press

CRESTON - Soon after he was born 14 weeks early, weighing 14.5 ounces, Jason Parker was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Today, at age 7, he can't walk or talk. Conventional medicine offers him little help. But Robert and Judy Hartsoe, founders of an Ashe County treatment center called Miracle Mountain, give his family hope.

The Hartsoes say the oxygen that patients inhale inside the center's hyperbaric oxygen chamber relieves symptoms of cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders.

But serious questions exist about whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy works for complex neurological conditions and about the way the treatment is delivered at Miracle Mountain. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not an accepted medical treatment for cerebral palsy or other neurological disorders. And Miracle Mountain does not have a doctor on staff or on call, as outside experts say is essential.

Some experts, including a Canadian doctor who studied 111 cerebral palsy patients who received hyperbaric oxygen therapy, say that the treatment offers little more than a placebo effect.

The hyperbaric oxygen chamber is a machine in which patients receive 100 percent oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure.

Miracle Mountain is in a small, unassuming wood-paneled cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Hartsoes bought a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for about $200,000 from an Internet site and opened the small clinic in April 2000. Standalone chambers are not required to be inspected or licensed by the state.

Since then, they say, they have treated 150 to 200 people.

Once every hour and a half, a child crawls or is carried through the small door into the hyperbaric chamber. The patient is covered with blankets and an oxygen hood is placed on his head. The child sits in the chamber for an hour and a half, twice a day.

Air pressure is increased during the first 15 minutes, from the normal level of 14.7 pounds per square inch to about 22 pounds per square inch. Once the pressure is increased, oxygen is given for an hour, then the pressure is gradually returned to normal.

During the treatment, the children sit still. Most don't seem to quite know what's happening. Parents can go inside the chamber with their child or stay outside.

Therapy is expensive. The standard 40-session treatment at Miracle Mountain costs $3,000, and many families make repeat trips to the center. Insurance doesn't cover the therapy, which means most families have to become adept at fund-raising.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a highly effective treatment for people who have inhaled carbon monoxide or have decompression sickness, known as the bends. People with body tissue damaged by radiation treatment or diabetic conditions are also often helped by the oxygen treatment, said Dr. Claude Piantadosi, who oversees the hyperbaric chamber at Duke University Medical Center.

The Duke chamber, like the ones at other hospitals around the country, is not used for the treatment of neurological problems.

The Hartsoes say the oxygen that the patients inhale stimulates the areas of the brain that have been damaged. But other doctors question whether the treatment can work on such damage, given that it is much older and more complicated than flesh wounds.

Some doctors say they are not ready to dismiss the therapy, which has become increasingly popular among parents of children with cerebral palsy, but they caution that much more research needs to be done.

Dr. Kurt Klinepeter, an associate professor of pediatrics and the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, doesn't take sides in the debate about the effectiveness of the therapy. But he does advise parents to be careful. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can cause middle-ear damage or even rupture the eardrum. There can also be air leaks that could damage the lungs, Klinepeter said. Patients can have seizures or suffer claustrophobia in the chamber.

"There are potential complications. If the therapy is not done correctly, for certain. But even if it is done correctly, there are potential complications," he said.

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, which decides on the procedures and treatments that will be covered by Medicaid and Medicare, sets the standard for what private insurance companies will cover as well. So far, it has refused to cover the hyperbaric treatment for children with neurological problems.

Michael Henderson, a CMMS spokesman, said the federal government typically won't cover a procedure if there isn't scientific evidence to back it up.

The Hartsoes say that this is because a closed-minded medical community has always been slow to accept anything new.

"It's only a matter of time before we get doctors and Medicaid and Medicare to accept it," Robert Hartsoe said.

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