Patients experience nothing scarier than the inability to breathe. That’s why Mercy Health has become the first health system in the region to offer a new treatment option for patients with emphysema, which is a severe form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).

Mercy Health is now offering Zephyr Endobronchial Valves, which involves a minimally invasive procedure to place valves into the damaged areas of the lung. 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.

“Traditional care for emphysema involves breathing treatments with bronchodilators, and if the patient gets worse, we can use oxygen therapy. Traditional surgery can also be used to cut away damaged areas of the lung. However, patients with emphysema commonly have heart disease, putting them at greater risk of complications from surgery and traditional lung-volume-reduction surgery has a prolonged healing and recovery time,” said pulmonologist Salil Avasthi, MD, of Mercy Health – Respiratory Specialists. “In contrast, the Zephyr Valve is minimally invasive, very effective and involves no incisions.”

Candidates for this new procedure are individuals who have known or suspected emphysema and hyperinflation, breathlessness despite taking medications, and a relatively high degree of airway obstruction.