Chamber of Hope Founder Dies

Mark Fowler and his wife, Betsy, founded a nonprofit oxygen center that treats sick and fragile children with brain injuries and neurological disorders. The nonprofit's services are free.

The St. Petersburg man who led a nonprofit oxygen treatment center that has provided free therapy to thousands of sick children died Friday morning.

Mark Fowler, chairman of the six-year-old Chamber of Hope, had cancer, according to a message posted on the center's website Friday:

"It is with great sadness and regret that we announce the passing of Mark, our Center Chairman, who lost his battle with cancer. Into his final hours, Mark was surrounded by family and friends. He will be missed severely by his family, friends, Masonic Brothers, and those many people whose lives he touched in the work that he did tirelessly, day after day.

"The Center will carry on its mission, in the spirit of Mark, and his lasting legacy will continue with each mHBOT treatment given. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Mark’s name to the Chamber of Hope. Details regarding Services held in Mark’s honor will be forthcoming in the coming days."

Fowler and his wife, Betsy, had run Chamber of Hope out of their St. Petersburg home since 2005. Chamber of Hope moved operations into a building on Coquina Key in early 2011. The center relied solely on donations to operate with a staff of volunteers.

In a 2011 interview, Fowler had said that Chamber of Hope does not promise a cure, but the treatments often improve disorders and the quality of life for children with serious neurological conditions. The St. Petersburg operation is the only one that is free to patients. It has treated thousands of children from across the U.S.

"I can't say no," said Fowler said. Fowler's grandson has cerebral palsy.

Hardy Bryan, chair of the Hyperbaric Center for Children, said that Fowler originally learned about oxygen therapy treatments, because of his grandson's medical condition. He suffers from Angleman's Syndrome. 

"This 2-year-old boy experienced seizures three times a minute up until he began using the therapy," Bryan recalled.  "He is now seizure free."

The positive responses of Fowler's grandson and other children with brain disorders prompted Fowler to work to open a center that helped youngsters, even when families could not afford the expensive treatments. 

Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning. Chamber of Hope treats "off-label" disorders not covered by medical insurance. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are available for chronically ill patients in other states, costing $400 to $1,200 per hour.

Chamber of Hope has received help from some mainstream local charities, including the Northeast Exchange Club, which sponsors the annual Ribfest.

To date, the nonprofit has treated 3,000 children with such chronic issues as cerebral palsy, autism, shaken baby syndrome, near drowning, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Crohn's and Lyme diseases, and other physical and neurological disorders. 

"Mark was our leader, and we were always inspired to do more knowing he was putting his all into the project," Bryan said.  

In lieu of flowers, Fowler's family is encouraging donations to Chamber of Hope.

Chamber of Hope accepts individual donations through PayPal on its website, and encourages charitable givers to sponsor a child in need of treatment. You can find out more by visiting the nonprofit's website.



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