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A good night’s sleep

OHSU surgically implants device to treat sleep apnea
man getting his blood pressure checked
"It's improved my life and my wife's life," says Randy Everett of Lake Oswego. Everett had a device surgically implanted to treat his sleep apnea. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

OHSU has a new procedure for treating sleep apnea, the first device of its kind surgically implanted in Oregon.

Sleep apnea
Derek Lam, M.D., M.P.H.

Derek Lam, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine, has partnered with Asha Singh, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of the OHSU Sleep Disorders Program, to offer this new therapy.

Dr. Lam performed the first surgical implantation of the Inspire upper airway stimulation device in late December. The patient, Randy Everett, 49, of Lake Oswego, reports that he’s sleeping soundly with the device – as is his spouse, who’s no longer awakened by her husband’s previous restlessness in the night.

“It’s improved my life and my wife’s life,” he said.

The device treats obstructive sleep apnea, a medical condition estimated to affect as much as 38 percent of the population.

Sleep apnea interrupts sleep through periodic airway obstruction during sleep, resulting in heavy snoring, pauses in breathing, or gasping. These respiratory events can happen more than 30 times an hour in severe cases. Depending on the severity of the condition, the sleep disruption can lead to chronic daytime sleepiness and serious health complications, including cardiovascular and brain health issues.

Inspire Therapy
The Inspire Therapy system delivers mild stimulation to the nerve that controls the movement of the tongue and surrounding muscles, allowing the airway to remain open during sleep. (Image via Inspire Therapy)

This new FDA-approved device stimulates the tongue to maintain breathing and uninterrupted sleep. The device is implanted under the skin of the right chest and has two wire leads that are placed under the skin – one under the tongue and one in the chest wall to monitor the lungs. It delivers a mild pulse to the nerve that controls the tongue, which keeps the airway open and the patient’s sleep uninterrupted. Patients turn the device on when they go to bed and off when they wake up.

“It’s basically like a pacemaker for your tongue,” Lam said.

The device isn’t for everyone. It’s been shown to be effective for people with a body mass index below 32 and who have predominantly obstructive events, which are more common and often associated with obesity, rather than central apneas, where breathing is disrupted because of how a person's brain functions. Further, the device is intended for patients who have tried and been unsuccessful in using a CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure, which is the first line treatment for sleep apnea. After patients receive the Inspire device, follow-up care is provided through the OHSU Sleep Disorders Program.

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