During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, Dr. Morton Altwerger fell ill with Covid-19. He struggled with severe symptoms, his breathing became difficult, and ended up at Phelps Hospital emergency room. Knowing the mortality risks of being ventilated, he opted for a hyperbaric chamber oxygen hood like the one routinely used at the Department of Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital Northwell Health. It may have saved his life.

Working with the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, his physician,  Owen J. O’Neill MD, MPH, medical director Division of Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital, recommended that Dr. Altwerger take part in his teams clinical trial, which he believed would help patients whose oxygen levels had dropped too low and would require mechanical ventilation. It worked. After spending 13 days in the hospital, with four of those days spent in the oxygen hood – without the use of a ventilator, Dr. Altwerger went home where his oxygen levels gradually improved. One year later, he has made a full recovery and is back to seeing patients and practicing podiatry.

In recognition of his continued diligence and excellence in the practice of hyperbaric medicine, particularly in how his studies have improved patient care, the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS), an international nonprofit association serving physicians, scientists, associates and nurses in the fields of hyperbaric and dive medicine, has presented Dr. O’Neill the 2022 Excellence in Hyperbaric Medicine Award.

“I am particularly honored by this recognition as it highlights the continuum of work that my team and I accomplish at Phelps Hospital, said Dr. O’Neill. “We are always interested in pushing the boundaries of hyperbaric medicine, research, education and how hyperbaric oxygen can improve patient care. We’ve had multiple research papers published over the years for hyperbaric, respiratory, and wound care.  Most recently during the pandemic, our research demonstrated how the use of hyperbaric oxygen hoods helped improve patients’ oxygen saturation levels and prevented them from the mortality risks of mechanical ventilation.”

The society noted that beyond the recent research and clinical work on oxygen hoods to help COVID-19 patients Dr. O’Neill has been a practicing the specialty of undersea and hyperbaric medicine for over 28 years. In addition, he is the founding and current Medical Director of the Department of Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital Northwell Health, the largest hyperbaric chamber in the Northeastern United States, with one of the most experienced hyperbaric medical teams in the nation.

Dr. O’Neill and David Dayya, DO, PhD, MPH, the associate medical director of the Division of Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine at Phelps Hospital, published their study April 1, 2021 in the journal Respiratory Medicine, on the benefits of the hyperbaric oxygen hood. The study demonstrated that the role of hyperbaric oxygen hoods provided significant improvement in oxygen saturation above that of conventional high-flow oxygen delivery systems and prevented immediate/imminent intubation and mechanical ventilation in the short-term. This allowed additional time for other medical treatments and medications to work. The oxygen hood is a safe, reliable, and an effective form of oxygen delivery which may reduce mechanical ventilation and mortality rates.

“Dr. O’Neill has been a mentor of mine for years, said Dr. Dayya, “I’m so pleased that he’s receiving this award for his dedication to hyperbaric medicine. He is a true pioneer and more than deserving of the Excellence in Hyperbaric Medicine award.”