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New procedure for sleep apnea

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AURORA, Colo. - So many people who suffer with sleep apnea have to use the big and bulky CPAP machines to breathe when they sleep. But new technology is now available that can be implanted in the chest and neck, so that no mask or hose is needed.

Dr. Katherine Green, the Director of Sleep Surgery at University of Colorado Hospital, is offering the new Inspire device. Mike Alderson of Highlands Ranch is one of the first patients.

In the past when Alderson slept, the muscles around his throat relaxed and that caused a blockage in breathing. He would wake multiple times at night. His oxygen levels would drop, and he would snore loudly. “I wore ear plugs, always,” his wife, Becky, said.

Mike tried wearing the CPAP machine, but he, like 50 percent of patients, struggled with it. “I’d just take it off and wouldn’t even know it,” Alderson said.

So he decided to try Inspire. Here’s how it works. A pacemaker like generator is implanted on the chest wall, and a wire is tunneled into the rib cage.

Another is tunneled into the neck, where a cuff is placed over the nerve.

“We are directly stimulating the nerve in the neck that controls the movement of the tongue, and so there is no actual surgery or cutting or changing of the tongue itself. It is all done through nerve stimulation,” said Dr. Green.

Patients are given a remote control. They turn it on at night and it senses breathing, pulling the tongue and soft pallet forward. That prevents the airway from collapsing. “That tongue will push forward whether you want it to or not,” Alderson said.

It may seem a little strange, but it’s working for Alderson.

“I think its excellent, I really do,” he said.

He’s breathing and he and his wife are sleeping. “He seems to be doing better sleep wise. I’m doing better sleep wise, because I’m not hearing him snoring, which can be a huge issue,” Becky said.

Plus he’s feeling more refreshed after a night of uninterrupted sleep, and the serious health risks associated with untreated obstructive sleep apnea have decreased.

Those can include risk of heart attacks, strokes and hypertension.