Springy coils could help emphysema patients breathe easier

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Coils in lung help emphysema patients walk further, though complications higher (WPVI)

There may be new hope for people who suffer from the lung condition Emphysema.

New research out today suggests one option being studied here in Philadelphia could help people breathe easier.

Emphysema is fairly common.

It happens to a lot of people who used to smoke.

There's no cure for it but experts are trying to find ways to help people have a better quality of life.

Local researchers say a device they're testing is a step in the right direction.

For years, even walking a hallway, 66-year-old Robert Palmisano felt out of breath.

"It felt like I couldn't breathe. I had a very tight chest," says Palmisano.

He has emphysema; it robs lungs of their elasticity.

They can't push air out, so people like Robert have a hard time breathing in, even for ordinary tasks.

"Mopping a floor, taking a shower was very difficult for me," he recalls.

When Robert exhausted the standard treatments, he got into a study at Temple Health testing the use of springy metal coils.

They're designed to hold diseased lung tissue back, allowing healthy tissue to expand and take in oxygen.

Dr. Gerard Criner says it's a minimally invasive process.

"There's no cutting from the outside," says Dr. Criner.

Watch a video of the procedure here.

"The physician places the coil using a bronchoscope, which is a small tube about the size of your pinky, that's flexible," he says.

CT scans also help doctors determine the placement.

Robert got coils in one lung in November, the other in January.

"After the second time, the results were actually immediate. I actually felt better as soon as the anesthesia lifted," Palmisano says.

In the standard 6-minute walking test, patients in the study were able to walk an average of about 50 feet more one year after getting the coils.

Barely a month after his procedure, Robert walked 173 feet farther in the six minutes.

That's more than half the distance of a football field.

He hopes to use that new-found stamina at the shore this summer.

"Maybe get in some body surfing. I used to do that all the time," he says, smiling.

"This isn't a cure for emphysema," says Dr. Criner.

"It's a treatment that can improve patients' outcome."

But researchers are still working to make adjustments, because the quality of life improved for patients.

However, the chance for serious complications also went up.

They were about twice as likely to develop pneumonia and collapsed lungs.

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