Longtime Killeen resident Debra Hickman had almost given up hope.
After a doctor wrongly assumed she had diabetes and lanced three lesions on her legs, Hickman developed deep wounds that refused to heal.
“I cried every day for a year,” she said.
Hickman had numerous treatments at Metroplex Hospital’s wound care specialty clinic, including bio-engineered skin cells that her body rejected.
Two of her wounds closed through the various treatments, but the third — and largest — remained painfully open.
“It was like a crater,” Hickman said. “I could put my finger in it.”
Her on-the-go lifestyle was halted by near-daily trips to the center.
“I was angry at first,” Hickman said of her botched procedure and unsuccessful treatments.
“We can see through your leg,” her 13-year-old twin daughters told her.
Hickman found hope several months ago when her doctor mentioned a new option coming to the center — a CelluTome machine.
“The technology has been around for 30 years,” said her doctor, H. Sprague Taveau, but only recently have doctors perfected the technique for a clinical setting. “It is similar to skin grafting, but much less painful and difficult,” he said.
On Wednesday, 90 days after her first CelluTome treatment, Hickman received her second and final procedure.
She walked into the center she has been visiting for a year and a half, greeting each staff member like longtime friends.
Nurse Mary Stewardson began with her weekly measurements of the wound — it reduced 80 percent in size since the initial CelluTome treatment.
Before, Hickman was afraid she would have to have her feet amputated.
As the second procedure began, Stewardson chose a harvest site on Hickman’s inner thigh, strapped on the harvester and attached the vacuum.
Hickman sat for half an hour, feeling pressure she said she hardly noticed.
After tiny blisters formed in the harvester on top of her skin, Taveau flipped a handle on the machine that sliced them off.
He used medical dressing to pick up the cells and immediately applied them to Hickman’s wound site. As simply as that, the treatment was complete and both sites were bandaged for a week.
29 patients treated
Since receiving the CelluTome machine in August, the center has used it on 29 patients, center director Sonnet Perkins said.
Hickman was the first.
“I was skeptical about it, but I have been amazed by the outcome,” Perkins said.
It is a less invasive procedure than skin grafting, and may be more likely to work than bio-engineered skin, as the body reacts better to its own cells, she said.
Only two of the patients who used CelluTome did not have successful regrowth, Taveau said.
The center is the only hospital in Central Texas to have the machine, according to Metroplex.
“It’s been a blessing,” Hickman said of the treatment. Her faith has propelled her through the countless procedures it’s taken to get to this point.
Despite her initial despair, “I just keep bouncing back,” she said. “I feel like I had to go through this so someone else can be healed.”