ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - For Tommy Ashby of Social Circle, Georgia, the final months of 2018 were lost a blur of pain and frustration.
"It was the toughest battle of my life," Ashby says. "I was battling."
The married father of two had been diagnosed almost 20 years earlier with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a blood cancer.
He'd managed the cancer with medication, but CLL weakened his immune system.
Then, in August of 2018, the pain set in almost overnight.
"The worst pain you have ever felt in your life hit me on the right side of my jaw," Ashby remembers. "I had no idea what was happening. You could have set my face on fire and it couldn't get worse."
After several trips to the hospital, Ashby was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, or a bone infection, in his jaw.
He thinks it may have begun a year earlier with a routine dental cleaning.
Once the infection set it, it was hard to stop.
"It literally penetrated my jaw bone, it just tore it apart," he says.
After two hospitalizations, several rounds of powerful IV antibiotics, and surgery, Ashby was sent to see Dr. Rajeev Mysorekar, Medical Director of Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital.
"He was in a great deal of pain, very uncomfortable," Mysorekar says.
Because Ashby had a chronic bone infection, and was worried he could lose his jaw, Dr. Mysorekar recommended hyperbaric oxygen treatment, to give Ashby's body, and the antibiotics, a boost.
"You're immersing the body in 100% oxygen, and you breathe in that 100% oxygen under pressure," Dr. Mysorekar. "And, so what that does is, it greatly increased how much oxygen your blood can carry. Oxygen has beneficial wound healing effects and it also can kill bacteria."
So, 5 days a week, for 40 treatments, Ashby would lie in the pressurized oxygen chamber for 2 hours, watching movies.
"You feel a little pressure, like deep sea diving," Ashby says. "When you're going down, you feel a little pressure, and then when you come back up, it's the same."
It took about a month, but between the IV antibiotics and the oxygen, something clicked.
"We started seeing a change," Ashby says. "It started making a difference."
Ashby's bone infection began to heal, and his pain level started dropping.
"It went from a 10 to a 6 to a 5 on down," he says. "It stayed at a 2 to a 4, until the holes closed down."
Today, Ashby has some numbness in his jaw, but no more pain.
The infection, he's been told, is gone.
"My bone is straight," he says. "No holes, it just looks like a normal jaw. I'm back to normal. I'm back to my old self again. I'm strong. I'm back at work."