One-way valves improving the quality of life for emphysema patients

BRIDGETON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A small device is having a big impact on the quality of life for some emphysema patients. We learn how these tiny one-way valves got a local woman back on her feet.

Breathing problems have plagued Linda Poole for a decade, taking away her independence.

"I couldn't walk a long distance, two steps and I had to stop and regroup," she said. "It was truly knocking me down a little bit."

After hearing about lung valves in a television ad, Poole contacted the Temple Lung Center.

Dr. Gerard Criner said the devices can help relieve hyper-inflation, in which air can't leave diseased parts of the lung. Sufferers are always short of breath.

"It's like if you take a deep breath in and breathe a little bit out and try to take another deep breath in, you feel like you're suffocating," he said.

The process, called Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction, or BLVR, is done with a flexible scope. Once the valves are in place, they let trapped air out, blocking new air from getting in, and reducing the size of the diseased lobe.

"The patient is sedated, has general anesthesia. The procedure itself takes minutes, like 10 or 15 minutes overall," explained Dr. Criner.

Afterward, the treated lobe shrinks, letting healthy areas expand. Dr. Criner said patients stay in the hospital for several days, in case the treated lung collapses too fast.

Three months after getting the valves, Poole's independence is returning.

"I probably could walk two blocks, and with my walker, three blocks," she said.

And Dr. Criner said that's the goal, to give patients more options in improving their quality of life.

"It's important for patients that don't get the treatment goals that they want to seek another opinion, see their primary doctor and see if there's anything that can be done," he said.

A study released in May showed that the improvement in breathing and quality of life lasts for at least two years after the valves are implanted. That study is continuing.
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