CHICAGO — Supply chain issues coupled with a massive recall of CPAP devices by one of the world’s largest manufacturers have left many people with sleep apnea looking for alternatives.
For 80-year-old retiree Dan Sheehan, dealing with sleep apnea has meant countless restless nights.
“I will 71 — times an hour — I quit breathing, which is high,” said Sheehan.
That’s more than once a minute. He tried a CPAP machine for about five years.
“In two hours, my mouth would be not dry but stuck together and I had the humidity thing on danger,” he said.
It didn’t work for his wife Darlene, either.
“The mask is all over the place. You know, he's making all kinds of noises. I actually did move out of our bedroom,” she said. “We all had to sleep.”
Sleep-disordered breathing is extremely common, affecting about a billion people globally.
It sometimes includes snoring but obstructive sleep apnea, which causes the airways to become blocked, is the most serious.
One recent study found that obstructive sleep apnea increases a person's risk of developing cardiovascular conditions including hypertension, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. And they’re twice as likely to experience sudden death compared to people who don’t have it.
“It had gotten a little worse, a little worse until I said, ‘You know, you got to tell the doctor this is what's going on,’” said Darlene Sheehan.
Dan’s doctor recommended he’d be a good candidate for an innovative treatment using a device surgically implanted in the chest known as the Inspire Sleep Apnea device.
“It's a safe surgery, but it's a complicated one to do. It takes on average about two hours to perform. Patients, fortunately, can go home the same day,” said Dr. Phillip Losavio, head of sleep surgery at Rush University Medical Center.
The patient can control the implanted device using a remote control.
When the muscles and soft tissues of the throat relax, they block the airway. That’s when the matchbox-sized regulator delivers mild neural stimulation.
“What the device is doing is it's trying to prevent those muscles from collapsing on each other and preventing that decrease in airflow from occurring,” said Losavio.
It’s not dissimilar from having a pacemaker. Dan Sheehan has both.
“Can you put two generators in one chest? I don't want to light up like Frankenstein, you know. So that cleared with the heart surgeon,” said Sheehan.
His wife Darlene said Dan now wakes up happier and more relaxed each morning.
“No more dry mouth, no more cleaning the machine,” she said. “He's not much of a cleaner anyway.”
Studies have found the device to be at least 70% effective and it’s now offered in more than 500 medical centers around the country.
And while it’s not for everyone, Dan Sheehan says with the implant, he’s never slept better.
“I get a little towel I’m drooling now. So, I went full circle. For me, it's worked great.”