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East Liverpool hospital using fish skin for groundbreaking wound treatment

East Liverpool City Hospital is the only one in this area using Kerecis

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio (WKBN) - WARNING: Some of the images in this video could be considered graphic to some.

A woman is crediting a revolutionary treatment for giving her a second chance at life. East Liverpool City Hospital is using fish skin to heal open wounds or burns.

This type of treatment has been in the news lately. A similar method was used to treat bears burned in California's wildfires. The U.S. military has been experimenting with it to improve the treatment of soldiers wounded by bombs and suffering other battlefield injuries.

Here in the Valley, the treatment -- Kerecis -- is helping people escape pain.

Diane Simmons makes a trip to the Wound Care Center at East Liverpool City Hospital each week.

"I have two ulcers that I've been to wound clinics for over three years and I haven't made much progress at all," she said. "I am so excited about this. I just can't wait to see where I go from the first application now to the second."

MORE - Wound care at East Liverpool City Hospital

The ulcers on her legs cause a lot of pain. Nurses remove the bandages, then clean the wound and measure it to see how Kerecis is helping it heal.

"What's happened already in a week is more than I've had in the last three years," Simmons said.

East Liverpool City Hospital is the only medical center with the Kerecis fish skin treatment in our area. Its deal with the company locks out hospitals in Youngstown and Pittsburgh.

MORE - Kerecis: From fish skin to skin substitute

Local surgeons have welcomed the new treatment for a frequent problem.

"In this area, we've seen a lot of people that have chronic problems like diabetes, like smoking and they just don't have a good, normal healing process," Dr. Gregg Bogen said.

The Kerecis bandage contains a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids. Doctors say it's porous, which allows a patient's own skin cells to grow through and over it.

"This is almost 70 percent the same as human skin and because of that, it works," Bogen said. "But because it's not completely human skin, the body will absorb it over time and replace it with your own skin."

MORE - Omega-3 improves hair and skin, decreases risk of heart disease

Unlike skin grafts from elsewhere on a patient, using the fish skin doesn't require surgery or putting someone to sleep.

"As opposed to a skin graft, is what we did in this country and in the world for years and years -- taking skin from another area of the body and using it," Bogen said. "Now putting a substitute on that's...in a fairly close analog to human skin, and using it to cover an open wound without creating another open wound where you harvest the person's own skin."

Kerecis treatment only requires a little bit of topical anesthetic on the skin.

"Putting the graft in place and in adhering to the graft, it does release growth factors becaue it is live tissue, and those growth factors stay locally in the area and continue to promote that healing in the area," Bogen said.

He said patients could see a difference with one or two applications.

The fish skin comes to East Liverpool from thousands of miles away.

A team from the hospital just traveled to the western fjords of Iceland to see how this miracle cure is made.

MORE - Process of harvesting cod in Iceland for Kerecis treatment

Starting with North Atlantic cod caught in the icy waters, the skin is removed as the fish is processed for food. Then the skin is treated in a lab and used to help patients like Simmons.

"I hope that this allows me to be able to wear socks and hose again, and to be able to live a normal life without worrying about if you have a shoe full of drainage," she said.

The Kerecis treatment is FDA approved, and covered by most insurance companies and Medicare. Doctors said it can be used on almost any large wound that is free of cancer cells.