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Clearing the Airways

Innovative non-drug treatment helps patient with severe asthma breathe easier

Kenny Beyer Kenny Beyer, 34, came to the University of Chicago Medicine seeking help for severe asthma. Pulmonologist Kyle Hogarth, MD, performed an innovative procedure called bronchial thermoplasty to open the airways of Beyer’s lungs. Beyer calls the difference in his quality of life "miraculous."

Most asthma symptoms can be controlled with medications and inhalers. But for people with advanced and hard-to control asthma, attacks can be frequent -- and life threatening.

Despite daily breathing treatments and steroids, Kenny Beyer, 34, of Gurnee, Ill., made more than a dozen trips to the hospital for asthma-related treatments in 2010 and 2011. He spent 45 days as an inpatient, some in an intensive care unit. He barely made it out of the hospital in time for his wedding day.

"My allergist told me 'we need to do something else for you,'" Beyer recalled. The physician suggested he contact University of Chicago Medicine pulmonologist Kyle Hogarth, MD, about bronchial thermoplasty (BT) a new treatment for adults with severe asthma. The FDA had just approved BT after an international clinical trial showed promising results.

Bronchial thermoplasty catheter The bronchial thermoplasty catheter delivers targeted heat to reduce excess airway smooth muscle tissue. (Image provided courtesy of Boston Scientific Corporation.)

Bronchial thermoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat to reduce the excess smooth muscle found in the breathing tubes of people with severe asthma. Less muscle means decreased constriction during an attack. The most common side effect of treatment -- temporary worsening of respiratory-related symptoms -- usually resolves within a week. No new or long-term symptoms as a result of BT have been reported.

After confirming that Beyer did not have other lung problems, Hogarth determined he was an ideal candidate for BT. In each of three outpatient sessions, Hogarth inserted a thin flexible tube (bronchoscope) into a major airway of Beyer’s lungs. A catheter at the tip of the bronchoscope then delivered targeted heat directly to the airway’s smooth muscle tissue.

"Eliminating the buildup of tissue opens the breathing passages to allow better airflow," Hogarth explained, noting that the remaining regions of the lungs and breathing tubes are not damaged by the procedure.

Kyle Hogarth, MD Kyle Hogarth, MD

Hogarth says that although BT is not a cure for asthma, it is a "fantastic" option for individuals who have severe forms of the disease. "It’s a new approach to managing asthma that can dramatically improve the patient’s quality of life."

Beyer agrees. He is no longer dependent on oral steroids, but continues on daily maintenance medications for his asthma. He occasionally takes additional medication during an exacerbation. "While I still have asthma, the difference in my life is miraculous," said Beyer, who recently started a support group for patients who have had or are considering BT. "I no longer need to hibernate inside my house. I can walk outside, even on a humid day. I feel like I can do normal things."

June 2015

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