Radical approach to depression being offered in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

A radical approach to treating depression is now being offered in Wichita.

Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center opened on Wichita's east side in March, and it's treated 13 patients, including Lori, who was willing to share her story with KAKE News On Your Side.

Lori has battled depression for 20 years.

"My mother passed away, and that's kind of when it seemed to start," Lori explains.

As she tried to cope with her mother's death from cancer, anti-depressants didn't work for Lori.

"The frustration was nothing ever seemed to help, and I tried lots of different things," she continues.

But through her own research, Lori learned of a different method for treating the symptoms of depression: through small doses of ketamine.

"We are new to ketamine infusions as they relate to depression, but we're not new to ketamine as a medication," says Sonia Slaba, a Registered Nurse Anesthetist at Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center.

The drug ketamine has historically been used as an anesthetic, until about 15 years ago, when doctors found its effects useful in treating depression.

More recently, ketamine has been associated with the street drug, Special K. It’s caused overdoses and deaths across the country since.

In low doses, some medical professionals claim it can quiet the incessant noise and thoughts in your brain.

"Ketamine works on a completely different pathway than the typical antidepressants people are on. It allows for different neuro-transmitters to be released, and it allows for a different pathway of working in your brain. Ketamine allows you to work through things that you have probably suppressed for survival in your life," says Jason Burk, a Nurse Anesthetist with Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center.

Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center is one of only a handful of clinics nationwide offering ketamine infusions to qualified patients, using an IV to administer ketamine in a series of six infusions, each for about 45 minutes.

"It is not a first-line treatment for depression, so they (patients) have to have failed two anti-depressants in the past, and that makes them a candidate for the ketamine infusions," says Slaba.

Slaba's work at the center is a passion project for the full-time nurse anesthetist.

But even more than that, it's personal.

"I had a brother that had depression most of his life. And he died by suicide in 2015. He never received ketamine, but I wish that we would have tried it or we would have known about it," says Slaba.

The clinic has treated 12 of its patients for depression and one for chronic pain.

“It's like a part of my brain was activated that had never been activated before," says Lori.

It's stories like Lori's and other patients' that are keeping the group at Advanced Infusions going.

"I cried in front of my first patient the other day. He was leaving, he said 'You guys are life-savers,' and I said 'I'm glad you're feeling better,' and he said 'No, I don't think you understand. I was going to kill myself if this didn't work,'" says Burk.

Ketamine has not been approved by the FDA to treat depression.

It also isn't covered by insurance.

The team at Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center is upfront that this is not a cure for depression. There is no cure.

But they are hopeful this radical treatment can help save lives.