Health Team

Trial device helps man with emphysema get back on stage

Posted October 9, 2015
Updated October 12, 2015

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— Many people take breathing for granted until diagnosed with a chronic lung disease such as emphysema.

James Townsend, 59, said the disease almost ruined his singing career.

"I could play the crowd and go out to the truck and get a breathing treatment, and then come right back in and they never knew what happened," he said.

Eventually, Townsend said he could not even wash his face or brush his teeth without feeling exhausted. That's when he made a visit to Duke pulmonologist Dr. Momen Wahidi for a trial device for patients with emphysema.

"The problem with emphysema is we have destruction of the air sacs and therefore an inability to exchange gas with oxygen," Wahidi said.

For Townsend, the worst damage was to the upper parts of his left lung, so Wahidi placed four wire-framed valves in the airways leading to the affected regions. The valves allow air to escape but not go back in. According to Wahidi, eventually, the damaged areas shrink.

"That would allow those healthier units to work better, have more space and be able to bring more oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide," Wahidi said.

Townsend quit smoking to be part of the trial. He had the procedure in June.

"Since the surgery, I don't have breathing attacks anymore. I have no breathing attacks," he said.

Now, Townsend is back on stage performing, even though Wahidi says the valves are not intended as a cure.

"The goal of this is to improve quality of life for the breathing of these patients," he said.

Townsend said while he and his family are breathing easier, he still keeps an oxygen tank nearby.

The lung valves are still part of an ongoing study at Duke. Lung transplants remain the only potential cure for patients with chronic lung disease.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the third leading cause of death in the country.


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