DURHAM, N.C. — A new procedure is helping people with advanced emphysema breathe easier.
Patients usually carry around oxygen tanks and cannot walk more than a few feet at a time. A new procedure, called lung reduction surgery, could help patients get back on their feet again.
One of those patients, Jo Ann Desilets, never thought she would enjoy walking down the halls of a Duke Medical Center. Her emphysema was so bad, she used to need a helping hand and an oxygen tank to get around.
"I used it playing golf, which, of course, was a sight to see," she said. "I smoked and I knew better and I'm paying the price."
Emphysema is a progressive disease. It causes inflammation in the air sacs of the lungs. Over time, the inflammation destroys airways, making it hard to breathe.
Most treatments only help the symptoms.
"These are all symptomatic. They don't really reverse the course of the disease," said Dr. Neil McIntyre.
During lung volume reduction surgery, surgeons cut out inflated areas of the lungs. This helps the lungs expand, making it easier for patients to breathe.
"They feel better and they live longer," McIntyre said.
McIntyre says the surgery offers new hope to people with advanced emphysema.
In clinical trials, most patients saw the same results as Desilets. Two months after the procedure, lung function tests show she is breathing normally.
When she is finished with all her tests, she says she cannot wait to hit the golf course.
"Golfing without oxygen will be real treat," Desilets said.
The procedure hs been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is expected to become more common. It is covered by Medicare, so it is likely that most private insurances will pay for it, too.
This is a new procedure, and since emphysema is a progressive disease, patients may see the symptoms return over time.
For now, doctors and patients are hopeful. The bottom line is that emphysema can be prevented. Almost every case is caused by smoking.