An Australian athlete has suffered horrifying burns after being left in a cryotherapy chamber too long.
Athena Martinez, 29, an MMA fighter who competes for the Australian Top Team, visited a “recovery” clinic in Sydney on Thursday ahead of a fight scheduled the following day on November 27.
Cyrotherapy is a popular health and beauty treatment that involves being exposed to the icy temperatures of liquid nitrogen for three minutes, with temps plunging to as low as minus 180C.
A $85 treatment in the tubular chamber is said to boost metabolism and aid muscle recovery as well as allegedly burn up to 3350 kilojoules without moving a muscle.
But in Athena’s case, it has left her in “constant physical pain” and requiring a skin graft to save her legs after she was left inside for six minutes and suffered extreme burns.
The martial arts expert told news.com.au she had no idea she had been left in for six minutes until she exited the champer and was told by the operator “I gave you a double session”.
“An hour after the cryotherapy I could feel my legs burning and my legs were very red” she said.
A few hours later blisters started to pop out behind her knees and both limbs began to turn black.
“I text my friend who is a nurse a photo and she told me to go straight to Concord Hospital because it has the best burns unit,” Athena explained.
Because of the time, the burns unit was closed. After being bandaged up in the emergency room she returned the following morning, and the state of her legs left doctors horrified.
“I couldn’t sleep because I was in so much pain,” Athena said. “At 10am on Friday, doctors opened the bandages she said it didn’t look good.
“He told me, ‘We are going to have to rush you into surgery because you might lose your legs’.
“I started crying because I was scared. At that moment I couldn’t feel my legs, so I knew it was very severe.”
After having “limb saving” surgery where doctors removed the dead skin caused by the second-degree burns on her legs and performed synthetic skin graft, Athena is now facing several weeks of bed rest and requires a walking stick to move around her home.
“I have burns to 50 per cent of my left leg and 20 per cent of my right leg,” she explained, vowing to return to her sport once “back on my feet”.
Joanna Lykouresis, CEO of Cryo Science told news.com.au Athena’s story should raise concerns for anyone using these machines, explaining liquid nitrogen can be incredibly dangerous unless handled correctly and urged caution when choosing who performs this treatment.
“You can’t breathe liquid nitrogen in as it only takes a few minutes for the person to go into a state of unconsciousness and then it can be fatal by asphyxiation hence why the head and neck are out of the chamber,” she said.
In Athena’s case, she was left inside the chamber for double the recommended time, directly exposing her to dangerous levels of the coolant which is commonly used to in cooking and by medical experts to remove warts.
While some cryotherapy devices – such as the CRYO Arctic whole body cryotherapy chamber used by Cryo Science – have been tested and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), many others haven’t.
The TGA however have not made an official statement on whole body cryotherapy devices, telling The Medical Republic in October 2019 the devices were “medium to high risk”.
Interestingly, the FDA in the US has warned consumers there is no evidence that cryotherapy helps treat any medical conditions at all, the report added.
A study published in a medical journal last year determined whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) is a “trendy new treatment” that has the potential for adverse effects – but stressed cold burns are “much less common than their thermal counterparts”.
Athena isn’t the only athlete who has encountered issues when using cryotherapy.
In August 2019, US footy player Antonio Brown suffered a “gagworthy” burn after failing to wear appropriate footwear in one of the chilly machines.
The NFL star suffered “extreme frostbite” which caused him to miss out on training according to a report by People.
Athena is now facing costly medical bills because the Brazilian-born athlete isn’t an Australian citizen, so has launched a GoFundMe to help cover her mounting expenses.
“My boss kindly paid the $4000 for my surgery as I don’t have Medicare (I am not an Australian citizen) so I need to pay for all the expensive medical bills,” she wrote on the fundraiser, which has already surpassed its target of $10,000.
“I will require more bandage changes, medical appointments, medications, rehabilitation, transport to and from appointments, and legal fees which I cannot afford without financial assistance. It could be a long time until I can return to work.”
She added she would donate any money left over after her bills are paid to a “charity for burns patients or to the Rural Fire Service to help their volunteers”.
The 29-year-old has also shared photos of her horror injuries showing huge blisters formed on her knees and limbs and red, raw skin on her calves.
“What a crazy few days … who would have thought that before my fight, on the week of my birthday this would be happening,” she wrote on Instagram.
“My physical pain is constant, with a feeling of my legs being on fire all the time, but my heart is happy, full of love, full of gratitude. And that’s what matters.”
News.com.au has contacted the clinic involved for comment.