Oklahoma has a dubious distinction, of which renowned wound care physician Tay Sha Howell is far from proud. The state has one of the nation's highest amputation rates, with about 1,600 lower extremity amputations every year, she said.
What's more, the leading amputation in Oklahoma — with its high obesity rate and high numbers of diabetes-prone Native Americans and Hispanics — is below-the-knee, followed by above-the knee. Nationwide, it's a toe and mid-foot.
“When it comes to saving a limb and preserving the most function, it takes a village of physicians,” Howell said, “from those in primary care and cardiology, to those in endocrinology, vascular medicine, infectious disease and other specialties.”
As director of the Norman Hyperbaric and Wound Care Center, Howell is passionate about educating health care professionals on advances in wound care, as well as the public about early intervention for sores that don't heal, controlling diabetes and the risks of smoking. Along with diabetes, peripheral artery disease is also a leading factor in the development of wounds.
Howell's staff of 13 averages about 730 patient encounters and 50 new patients a month. To meet the growing demand, the center — which rates high nationwide in healing percentages and days to heal — is being relocated in February, from Norman Regional Healthplex's professional building to its heart plaza. The center's exam rooms and hyperbaric chambers will double to 10 and four, respectively.
Howell, 44, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Can you tell us about your first name and its origin?
A: I'm one-eighth Caddo; my dad is one-quarter, and Tay Sha (pronounced TEY-SHAH) is the Caddo word for friendly. I'm proud of my Native American heritage, but I can't claim to be a big supporter of Indian culture like my half-brothers — Chase Earles, of Ada, and Chad Earles, of Atlanta, who are nine and 16 years younger. Both are Indian artists and Chase, this past Red Earth Festival, won second overall for his traditional Indian pottery.
Q: Was your Indian heritage a big part of your childhood?
A: Not really. My father is the Native American and, after my parents divorced when I was 3, I lived in Edmond with my mom. An X-ray tech, she married my stepdad, a radiologist, when I was 8.
Q: Did their careers influence your decision to pursue medicine?