Bronchial thermoplasty is a heat-based treatment that restores breathing for asthma sufferers

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Monday, November 7, 2022
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Asthma forced a MontCo woman out of teaching and her favorite activities. But a heat-based treatment to keep airways open has her going strong again.

LANSDALE, Pa. (WPVI) -- For most people with asthma, medication helps keep things under control.

But when those fail, a treatment using heat to open airways may bring long-term relief.

A Lansdale, Pa., woman says it's given her five years and counting of being back to the things she loves.

"Before I was the age of 50, I felt like I was over 100," recalls Sherry Sikora.

For more than a decade, nothing slowed down her asthma.

"My asthma just took control of my life," Sikora says. Every day seemed to be centered around attempts to breathe easier.

"Extremely high doses of steroids. I was hospitalized four times. Just - the medications, bloodwork, CAT scans, injections," she says, listing all the treatments she'd had.

Worst of all, asthma forced Sherry to retire early from the teaching job she loved.

Sikora's quality of life sharply changed for the better five years ago after a respiratory therapist urged her to get to the Temple Lung Center, where she saw Dr. Kartik Shenoy.

Dr. Shenoy recognized that Sikora was a candidate for bronchial thermoplasty, a treatment that first came to this area at Temple in 2012.

"We go into someone's airway and provide a small amount of radiofrequency heat," he says, describing the process.

"It actually reduces the amount of smooth muscle in the lungs. So whenever someone's exposed to an irritant, an allergen that causes their airway to close up, it won't close up as much," he says.

"We use it to treat patients that have severe persistent asthma that aren't controlled on standard inhaler therapy," Dr. Shenoy adds.

Three treatments are needed, each about 30 to 40 minutes long, and at least three weeks apart.

With each one, Sikora was able to do more.

"I was able to kick a ball, I was able to start living. I could make Christmas cookies," she says with delight.

Dr. Shenoy says most patients reach their peak recovery six or eight weeks after their third treatment.

From both studies and his own patients, he's seen they get years and years with fewer flare-ups and hospitalizations, with no major downside.

"There's no significant long-term side effects of the procedure itself. There's no major lung scarring, damage, etc.," he says.

"I've had some people that have been on steroids for years prior to getting thermoplasty. And were able to wean down or off their steroids completely," says Dr. Shenoy.

Sikora now manages her allergies and asthma with a biologic drug and an inhaler.

And she's doing what used to be impossible, including a dream trip to Hawaii.

"I was able to do all of Hawaii and climb the volcanoes," she says with a smile.

"We went to a Halloween fest with our grandchildren last night, and I actually went on a hayride," Sherry says, happy she could enjoy Halloween.

We have two grandchildren that I play basketball with," she adds.

Sikora was also volunteering, making camouflage nets for Ukraine.

Dr. Shenoy says a thorough evaluation is essential before any treatment to rule out heartburn, sleep apnea, or sinus conditions as a cause for asthma.