COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. (WPVI) -- It's been five years since the FDA approved the first valves to treat severe emphysema.
And since then, they've turned life around for patients, including a Montgomery County woman.
Sherrie Nichols has had lung problems her entire life.
"I was born premature. And then I had pneumonia almost every winter as a child," Nichols notes.
Nonetheless, she was very active, juggling work, family, and a love of sports.
She eventually developed emphysema - and it progressively got worse.
"I could hardly walk to the kitchen. I could hardly cook. I couldn't clean. I was so exhausted all the time," she says.
A Facebook post alerted Nichols to Temple Health's Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction procedure.
Through a long, lighted tube, tiny valves are implanted in airways to block off diseased sections.
"It's anywhere from 1 to 6, depending on the load that you have, and your anatomy," says Dr. Gerard Criner, director of the Temple Lung Center.
Dr. Criner has been a pioneer in the technique.
The valves allow air out of those overinflated parts, but don't let air back in, so healthier sections can work better.
He says these FDA-approved devices are effective.
"In clinical trials, about 60% of patients have a significant improvement in symptoms, quality of life, less short of breath, improvement in lung function," notes Dr. Criner.
And they're far better than surgery to remove diseased tissue.
"There was two-thirds less complications, including mortality," he says of head-to-head studies.
But Dr. Criner says preparation is important for success with BLVR.
"It's selection of the right patient for the procedure, then it's selection of the right part of the lung to treat," says the doctor.
Nichols says, "The procedure from start to finish was just marvelous."
She could breathe better almost right away, and has improved since.
A year later, she's back golfing, walking two miles a day, and will soon flies to Seattle to celebrate her 80th birthday.
"I cannot tell you how wonderful my life is now," she says with a smile.
Nichols is especially happy to be free of oxygen.
Dr. Criner says bronchial valves don't cure emphysema.
But he says if you're short of breath and not doing well on your current doctor's treatment, they're worth checking out.