LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — One in five adults suffers from sleep apnea, but surgery is usually not an option – until now.
The Inspire pacemaker, only recently approved by the FDA, is designed to open the airway and was a last resort for Brian Heiser.
“I was just having a real hard night’s sleep,” Heiser said.
As he slept, Heiser’s tongue would fall back against his throat as he slept, obstructing his airway. At USC Keck School of Medicine, sleep-surgery specialist Eric Kezirian says it’s no wonder Heiser always felt so tired.
“When you have blockage of breathing, your body’s natural response is to try to breathe,” Kezirian said. “So, often you come out of deep, restful sleep into lighter, crummy sleep, and so that’s why people with sleep apnea will often wake up in the morning not feeling refreshed.”
The safest and most traditional option for apnea is a C-Pap mask, which uses air pressure to keep the airway open. It works for many people, but didn’t help Heiser.
“It was always leaking and blowing air out of the nasal pillows,” Heiser said.
In July, Heiser underwent surgery to implant the Inspire system. The pacemaker goes into the chest and connects to a wire that attaches to a nerve in the neck that controls tongue movement. When the device is turned on, the electric current is activated to move the tongue forward during sleep, which opens up the space for breathing in the throat.
When he sleeps, Heiser has a remote to turn on when he goes to sleep, which jolts his tongue. When he wakes up, he turns it off.
“It’s just the weirdest thing,” Heiser said.
The Inspire system is not risk free, however.
“We’re operating on a part of the body where there are these other nerves so potentially problems with speaking, swallowing, movement of different muscles of your face,” Kezirian said. “Those risks are all relatively low, though.”
Heiser says he has no regrets and that his health risks from apnea outweighed the risks of surgery.
“I’m sleeping so great, and my wife is sleeping great,” he said.