Health Beat: Opening airways for COPD patients

Health Beat: Opening airways for COPD patients

CHICAGO - Some 24 million Americans suffer from some form of COPD. It's now the third leading cause of death in the United States. 

Now, a new device may help these patients live longer and breathe easier.

Charlene Kelly may have to schlep an oxygen tank, but she said breathing is actually easier these days.

"I can feel that my breathing has improved over the last four years," Kelly said.

That's because of a new intra-bronchial airway valve. A flexible tube with a camera at the end of it helps to guide a small, umbrella-shaped valve inside the airways of her lung. The device redirects air from unhealthy to healthy parts of the lung.

"I definitely feel like we've helped some people have much better lives," said Dr. Kyle Hogarth, director of bronchoscopy and assistant professor of medicine, The University of Chicago.

Prior to getting the IBV, Kelly said her emphysema prevented her from doing, well, almost anything really.

"I didn't sleep well. I'd wake up in the morning and I would be as tired as I was went to bed," Kelly said.

Despite her discomfort, traditional surgery to remove the damaged parts of her lungs was just too risky and the downtime is intense.

"The recovery time for a lung surgery is weeks. The recovery time for a bronchoscopy is a day," Hogarth said.

The new valve will last for about 14 years.

"Ten years from now we'll go and replace them for her. Maybe we'll have even better technology then. Oh, heck, I hope by then I'm growing lung. I'll just give her a new lung," Hogarth said.

Risks associated with the new lung valve include pneumonia and irritation that causes coughing and excess mucus. Doctors said the valve can be easily removed if patients experience these symptoms.

The new lung valve is entering into its final phases of trial in the U.S. and it's already being used in Europe.

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