The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health is the first hospital in Cincinnati to offer a new treatment option for patients with emphysema, which is a severe form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).

Mercy Health Physicians and pulmonologists Mudher Al Shathir, MD, Daniel Murphy, MD and Jeffrey Bloomer, MD of Mercy Health – Kenwood Pulmonary and Critical Care worked together to fit the new Zephyr Endobronchial Valves for the first time in a patient during a minimally invasive procedure at The Jewish Hospital on June 26, 2020. The FDA approved the valves recently through its “Breakthrough Devices” program, which the FDA defines as devices “that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions.”

According to the American Lung Association, more than 15 million Americans suffer from COPD and 3.5 million of those patients have emphysema. Despite using COPD medications, over one million emphysema patients suffer symptoms of hyperinflation, in which air becomes trapped in the parts of the lung damaged by the disease. This trapped air causes the damaged areas of the lungs to get larger, which puts pressure on the healthy parts of the lungs and diaphragm, leading to extreme shortness of breath.

With severe shortness of breath and inefficient breathing, patients work very hard just to breathe and this makes normal activities like walking, eating or even bathing difficult. There are few treatment options for most patients with emphysema and there is no cure. Until now, the only other option for these patients were highly invasive treatments such as lung volume reduction surgery or lung transplantation.

Treatment with the Zephyr Endobronchial Valves is minimally invasive, shortening recovery time and lessening the risk of infection. The one-time treatment is performed via bronchoscopy, which requires no cutting or incisions. During the procedure, the pulmonologist places an average of four tiny valves in the patient’s airways. The valves block off the diseased parts of the lungs where air gets trapped. This allows the healthier parts of the lungs to expand and take in more air, which helps patients breathe easier.

“Emphysema patients are often in poor physical condition and struggle with each breath despite medication therapy. Before the Zephyr Valves, the only options for relief were highly invasive treatments including lung surgeries,” states Dr. Al Shathir. “This minimally invasive procedure has the potential to make a difference and improve the quality of life for advanced emphysema patients. They should talk with their doctor to determine if they are good candidates for the procedure and if the valves could be of benefit to them.”

Dr. Al Shathir’s patient Cynthia Fagin has COPD and the severity of her condition forced her to go on oxygen full-time and quit work. She underwent the valve placement in one lung in September and saw her oxygen levels improve by seven percent in the weeks following the procedure.

“I still need to be on oxygen but now I can do things. I feel better, I’m more energetic, and I can go periods without oxygen,” says Fagin, who is considering valve placement in her other lung. “I would definitely recommend it. It was really pretty easy, and it makes you feel better.”