By STEPHON NICHOLAS Sunday, June 1 2014
For some afflicted with the disease psoriasis, it can come like a curse, driving one into seclusion and leaving one’s self esteem at an all-time low.
For 28-year-old Damian Charrie, not only did he have to deal with the sores covering his body, he had the misfortune of being among the three percent of persons with erythrodermic psoriasis - the rarest type of the terrible disease which can also be fatal.
In his twenties still enjoying life and accomplishing his goals, Charrie, however, refused to accept this hand he had been dealt.
Unable to attend work, sores covering the entire surface of his body, psoriatic arthritis limiting his mobility and even being scorned by uninformed members of the public, a desperate Charrie spent his entire life savings and more searching for a cure or some relief.
Unable to find help locally, the Hillview College schoolteacher began searching the internet for a treatment to help him return to some form of normalcy.
With his body not responding to any conventional treatment, Charrie began exploring the unconventional.
And it was there the UWI graduate stumbled upon relief from an unlikely but readily available source - oxygen. Two case studies abroad indicated that persons afflicted with psoriasis were able to treat the disease successfully through hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The treatment, which involves feeding the patient 100 percent oxygen in a specific chamber, is usually used to help heal injuries in diabetics.
Despite being the first in this country and likely the Caribbean to ever use hyperbaric oxygen treatment for psoriasis, Charrie was not deterred and contacted the Hyperbaric Treatment Centre in St Clair. He convinced its Medical Director, Dr Ahmad H Rahman, that the treatment would work and 30 sessions later, Charrie looks and feels cured.
“I feel good. I look in the mirror and I see myself. It was frightening to look at, I couldn’t walk properly. I scratched unconsciously and when I wake up in the morning my clothes used to be full of blood,” he revealed.
“I see it as a minor miracle. I see myself as cured already although I still have minor spots around my body and the arthritis. I see myself as normal but it’s unknown how long it will last. I’m in debt right now but at least I don’t have to worry about d-e-a-t-h,” he spelt out , grinning.
In all, the Fishing Pond, Sangre Grande native revealed that he has spent close to $150,000 on different types of treatment but sees that sum as a small price to pay for his health and general well-being.
Charrie plans to open a local foundation and also write a book to share his experience with other persons with the disease.
Meanwhile Dr Rahman, the Medical Director of the Hyperbaric Treatment Centre, is still amazed at the results of the treatment and feels honoured to be part of something groundbreaking.
“I was actually surprised because it never occurred to me before...but he informed me that he did research and found information strongly suggestive about its effectiveness.
“When I looked it up I found that there was a significant amount of evidence from some studies that were done that it would work...It’s a very safe type of technology and treatment so I was not worried of any adverse effects on him or his condition,” Rahaman said.
“This is for us - to our knowledge - the first, I haven’t heard any cases in the Caribbean having any hyperbaric treatment for psoriasis patients. This is not just a first for Trinidad, I believe it is a first for the Caribbean, not just a response but a dramatic improvement beyond anyone’s expectations,” he continued.
Explaining the science behind the technology, Dr Rahman said:
“To put it in comparison, oxygen that we breathe in this environment that we’re sitting in here consists of 27 percent oxygen which we call one atmospheric pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment increases the environmental pressure to two and a half atmospheres but we give the patient one hundred percent oxygen to breathe.
“The consequence is that oxygen behaves much more than supporting life but like a drug. The effect of that drug occurs because oxygen is dissolved in the water of the blood and not just carried in the red blood cells only...
“Oxygen dissolved in blood at that high concentration under high pressure can get to places red blood cells can’t.
“And that high concentration of oxygen revitalises half dead cells, partially functioning cells and infected tissue.”
Charrie, who found out he had erythrodermic psoriasis in 2009, spoke at length of his failed attempts to find a cure but with each disappointment just making him more determined to do so.
After using a plethora of topical creams without seeing any result, last year March he turned to a doctor in Chaguanas who gave him a diprofos injection (steroid).
“The psoriasis went away for about two weeks and after that it started to show back up. When he (the doctor) realised what happened he recommended me to another doctor in Curepe because he didn’t want to give me a higher dosage since he’s not accustomed administering it,” Charrie explained.
The ex-Hillview student said he also visited an internal medicine specialist in Sangre Grande who recommended prednisolone (another steroid) which he took for a month to no avail.
“At the end of the month I started to get little red buttons on my arms, chest and back. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to the drug. I was also going through an emotional situation in my life so I can’t say if it’s the drug alone,” he said.
With these drugs not working, Charrie said the doctor in Curepe wanted to put him on a drug that stops the keratinisation (thickening) of the skin which results in the palm and heels shelling out but it also stays in the blood for three years.
He explained that not much research has been done in men but women on the drug have to be on birth control as babies are likely to be born with a deformity.
Charrie’s online research took him to Cuba where he said was elated to know that there was something close to a cure available only to discover that the programme had to be discontinued because of lack of raw materials.
“Not getting through was a big disappointment. I had reached a point where at least 90 percent of my body was covered with psoriasis and it was painful. I couldn’t even bathe without it hurting. I had stopped sweating completely and didn’t even have to use deodorant.
“Any slight changes in temperature I would feel it. I would feel real hot when it’s hotter than usual and as soon as five o’ clock (in the evening) I would have to cloak up and be in bed with two blankets.
“I was desperate and ended up looking for hyperbaric therapy and ended up doing more research on it.”
After finding a local doctor’s number online concerning the hyperbaric treatment, he quickly made an appointment.
At a cost of $1,800 per session, Charrie and the doctor decided on 15 sessions at a total cost of $27,000, money which he did not have at the time.
“We started and within the first two weeks the swelling in my foot stopped and the itching disappeared. So they said ‘we’re doing 15, why don’t we do 20.’
“After the 20 was finished, we were seeing good results so we decided why not do 20 more but that was a problem because I didn’t have the money.
“I took two weeks off, then got eight sessions in and then my ear suffered barotrauma which disrupted the sessions a few times. We put in about 30 sessions in total and I realised that even after I stopped the treatment, that it was still working,” said Charrie. Ear barotrauma is a condition that causes ear discomfort due to pressure changes. Commenting on his personal challenges, Charrie said stress fuels the disease but said it is very difficult to manage that stress.
“I retreated from everybody. I wasn’t liming with any of my friends or in contact with them. It’s a cycle. They tell you stress causes it but when you have it, you get stressed out. So it’s a cycle, it’s real hard to get away from it,” he declared.
Asked about his persistent pursuit for a cure or treatment for the disease, Charrie said:
“That’s the kind of person I am. Ever since I was small. I passed Common Entrance for Hillview and my father told me to stay home and plant garden because we didn’t have any money and I said no.
“I didn’t want that (psoriasis) to stay with me for the rest of my life because it affected my job too. I would always be active, going around (school) and making sure no one is doing anything wrong,” he said.
Charrie extended thanks to God, his family, friends, students and teachers at Hillview College for their support in his most difficult time.