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Police probe hyperbaric chamber death

Man searched the world for headache relief

The Standard

Plagued by headaches, Dan Skala searched the world over hoping to find a cure for his problem.

The Pelham man thought he had found the solution in a hyperbaric chamber, a device that feeds the body 100 per cent pure oxygen and is believed to speed healing.

But Niagara Regional Police are still investigating whether the hyperbaric chamber may have contributed to his death after Skala, 36, was found unconscious in the chamber at his home Monday.

"That is something that the autopsy is going to reveal," said NRP Constable Richard Brouwer.

His body was transferred to Hamilton General Hospital for an autopsy Tuesday. Results were not immediately available.

Skala had reportedly been using the hyperbaric chamber for the past year to treat severe headaches. He was found unconscious in the machine after 25 minutes of treatment.

Emergency personnel were unable to revive him. Skala was pronounced dead at the scene.

St. Catharines resident Mike Pirri, a second cousin of Skala, said Skala had been all over the world looking for something to stop the pains in his head.

But despite regularly suffering from severe headaches, Pirri said his cousin's death came as a shock.

"He was a healthy man," Pirri said. "He was young."

Hyperbaric medicine is believed to be effective in treating stroke victims, brain injuries, children with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and carbon monoxide poisoning. The oxygen treatment is also helpful in relieving sports injuries, burns and headaches. Patients are placed in the pressurized chamber, and pure oxygen is pumped in. Practitioners of hyperbaric medicine say the treatment increases blood circulation, getting more blood to the brain and activating cells that might otherwise be dormant. Hyperbaric chambers can cost between $150,000 and $250,000 (U.S.) Most are equipped with doors that are easily opened from the inside without any exterior help. St. Catharines physician Dr. Michael Venneri, a certified operator of a hyperbaric chamber, said using the chamber is a highly scientific process, and could be dangerous if not done properly. "This therapy is something that cannot be self-administered," Venneri said. "With any type of health device, you should always consult a physician." Physicians using hyperbaric medicine have to be certified by either the American College of Hyperbaric Medicine or the Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society. Venneri said the effectiveness of hyperbaric treatments make it an attractive option to people in chronic pain, adding the case involving Skala is "quite sad. "People trying to help themselves will go to great lengths," Venneri said.
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