Imagine what it feels like to gasp for air. That’s what life comes down to for people suffering from COPD.
But some patients are now breathing easier thanks to new technology in the form of a tiny valve.
“I have a progressive disease that is going to get worse and worse as the years go on, and it robs me of breath,” Janina Birtolo said.
Birtolo is one of the 24 million Americans living with COPD, which stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“I was at the time earning my living as an actress, researching writing and performing one-woman shows based on historical characters,” Birtolo said. “I had to retire from that in 2020 because I couldn’t talk for an hour any longer.”
Dependent on supplemental oxygen and medications to open her airways, Birtolo started to make end-of-life plans when Dr. David Lindner offered her a lifeline.
“The use of something that we would use inside the airways, and the concept was valves,” Lindner said.
The Zephyr endobronchial valve works with a subset of patients with severe diseases. Placed in a series inside the lungs, it is a one-way valve.
“No hooks, you don’t sew them in. They are fully removable,” Lindner said, “and basically they stay in place, and they let the air out.”
The valve limits lung function to just the undamaged, healthy parts of the lung, allowing it to function efficiently.
“Dr. Lindner placed three endo bronchial valves in my– in the lower lobe of my left lung, and as I was coming out of anesthesia, I could take a deep breath for the first time in months,” Birtolo said.
The Zephyr valve may also add years to her life. This technology is not widely available, but it is offered at North Collier Hospital (NCH). Patients have to meet eligibility requirements to be considered for treatment.