Lung volume reduction gives emphysema patients' lungs more breathing space

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Monday, July 17, 2023
Lung volume reduction gives emphysema patients' lungs room to breathe
A strategic surgery helps emphysema patients breathe easier, and it is drawing people here from far and wide to Philadelphia.

PHILADELPPHIA (WPVI) -- When emphysema develops, the lungs lose their ability for two-way airflow.

A strategic surgery helps patients breathe easier, and it is drawing people here from far and wide to Philadelphia.

Mimi Kelley loves cycling around her Florida home with her husband.

One day a few years ago, she had to stop, unable to catch her breath.

And that happened again and again.

"One night, in the middle of the night, I spent 3 hours unable to catch my breath. And it was very frightening," Mimi recalls.

Emphysema damages the tiny air sacs in the lungs, trapping stale air in and keeping fresh oxygenated air out.

"Therefore it does compress the less-diseased lung or the healthier lungs," explains Dr. Charles Bakhos, Vice Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Temple Health.

Dr. Bakhos says there are two primary ways to free up healthy tissue: either 1-way valves which block off diseased areas, or surgically removing the damaged portions of the lungs, known as Lung Volume Reduction Surgery.

Both have strict qualification criteria.

Although Kelley didn't qualify for the valves, she did for surgery.

Dr. Bakhos says a minimally invasive approach used at Temple reduces post-operative pain for patients.

"Usually 3 small incisions on each side. The biggest is about less than an inch, actually," he says, adding, "We try to remove about 25 to 30% of the lung on each side."

"Patients benefit the most if we are able to perform it on both sides," he continues.

Afterward, about 70% of patients will have air leaks from the lung, but that usually subsides after a week.

Mimi was back on her feet quickly.

"They gave me probably 10 pain pills to take home. And I probably took 2 of them, and that was it," notes Mimi.

She returned home to Florida by train about two weeks later, with flying temporarily off-limits.

Dr. Bakhos says Temple's success is well above national rates, because of the program's 30-years of experience, as well as the constant research on improving the process.

"We know a lot more about the disease. Even the imaging studies that we currently use are more accurate, more precise," he says.

Temple Health is one of a relatively few hospitals nationwide offering Lung Volume Reduction, but has one of the highest yearly volumes.

So it attracts other patients from Florida, as well as New York, the Midwest, and western Pennsylvania.

Eight months after surgery, Mimi is ready to kick up her heels.

"I told Dr. Bakhos and I told all of them what I wanted to do was dance with my husband again. He's a really good dancer," she says.

While the surgery doesn't cure emphysema, it enables patients to have a better quality of life, so as long as they don't smoke, they can live longer.