PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Seventeen million American adults struggle with asthma, a narrowing of the airways. For most, medication can help control the symptoms. But for about five percent of those patients, there is very little that really works. However, for the very first time, there is a surgical procedure that is helping these patients breathe easier.
“Baking is something me and my girls do a lot,” said Jenn McBride.
McBride, 38, spends a lot of time in the kitchen. For the first time in years, everyday activities don’t wear her out.
“I just couldn’t get through the day because I couldn’t breathe,” she detailed.
McBride had asthma since she was 21, but four years ago she got pneumonia. After that, no matter what doctors prescribed, her airways were often inflamed.
“From that point on, around every six weeks I would either come down with bronchitis or another case of pneumonia,” she said.
Anthony Zikos, D.O., FCCP, a pulmonologist at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offered another option, a new FDA-approved treatment called bronchial thermoplasty. During the procedure doctors put a bronchoscope and a flexible catheter through a patient’s mouth into the lungs to deliver radio frequency waves to the lining of the tissue.
“It’s approximately 65 degrees, thermal energy, and the idea is to decrease the muscle mass in the bronchial tree,” explained Dr. Zikos.
With less muscle, the airway walls are less likely to contract during an asthma attack. Doctors perform three separate procedures, three weeks apart.
Deborah Gentile, M.D., Director of Asthma and Allergy Clinical Research at Allegheny Health Network, warned, “This isn’t for every asthmatic. This is for the worst of the worst that we can’t control.”
The procedure has kept McBride out of the doctor’s office and given her more time with her girls.
McBride told Ivanhoe, “Just to give you a better quality of life. It’s just amazing.”
Doctors say once the initial three sessions of thermoplasty are done, the procedure can’t be repeated because it’s still not clear what additional thermoplasty would do to the airway walls. Dr. Zikos said this isn’t a cure for asthma. Most patients will still require some medication to control symptoms.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.