Tiny lung valves help COPD patients breathe easier

Umbrella-like devices got their clinical trials at Temple Lung Center
NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Ronny Neal has struggled with emphysema for 15 years. It's a form of COPD - or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Every breath was a challenge, especially in hot, muggy weather.

"You just like seem you're walking in quicksand," says Neal, of Germantown.

Doctor Gerard Criner of the Temple Lung Center says diseased portions of Ronny's lungs wouldn't empty properly when he exhaled.

Even with medication and oxygen, he was always short of breath.

"When you have a lot of air in your chest, it decreases cardiac function by limiting the blood flow that goes to the heart. It impairs the breathing muscles, because it makes them shorter," says Dr. Criner.

Ronny was part of a clinical trial at Temple Health testing Spiration valves, tiny umbrella-like devices that go into the lungs.

They are designed to shut off non-working sections of the lungs, allowing healthier sections to take over.

The valves are put in place using an endoscope - a thin lighted tube.

"It only takes about 24 minutes to do it, and on average, there's about 4 valves that are placed to deflate a lobe of the lung," says Dr. Criner.

He says procedures like this do have a risk of lung collapse.

So patients are chosen carefully, monitored closely, and spend an extra day or so in the hospital

But test results show for some the benefits outweigh the risk.

"About 50 to 60 per cent of patients will have an improvement in lung function, quality of life, less breathlessness," says Dr. Criner.

Ronny noticed changes right after he got home from the hospital.

"I live on the second floor and go downstairs to get my mail,. and I noticed - Gee, I'm not totally out of breath," Ronny says with a smile.

The Spiration valves got their final FDA approval in December.

In late March, Temple University Hospital performed the nation's first post-approval procedure.

That patient, like Neal, is doing well and breathing easier.
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