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Catching Her Breath
How Bronchial Thermoplasty changed one woman’s life
by Maura Hallam
Breathing. It’s not something most of us think about much. But when you have severe asthma, like Rae Torres, breathing is often the only thing on your mind.
“I never knew when I was going to have an attack,” says Torres. “It was horrible.”
Torres struggled with chronic bronchitis as a child. But it wasn’t until she was well into adulthood that breathing started to become a problem, when, one day, Torres returned home from a run and found herself struggling to breathe.
“That was the first time that it scared me,” she says.
Torres’ doctor diagnosed her with “exercise-induced asthma,” and prescribed her an albuterol inhaler, which kept her asthma under control for a while.
But by 2005, Torres was using her inhaler all the time.
“I just couldn’t catch my breath,” she says.
That June, a severe asthma attack landed her in MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital Intensive Care Unit. While hospitalized, she had two near-fatal attacks — one so severe she had to be resuscitated. All told, she was in the hospital for four days while her care team struggled to control her breathing.
Pulmonologist Thomas Mann, MD, escalated her diagnosis from exercise-induced asthma to asthma.
For the next seven years, Torres lived in a kind of limbo. She could no longer exercise, as that could induce an attack. She avoided social situations for fear of having an attack in public. She was maxxing out on the allowable dosages for her medications, but barely keeping her asthma in check.
“I was taking everything I could take,” says Torres, “But I wasn’t controlling it. It was very frightening.”
Then, Torres learned of a MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation study involving bronchial thermoplasty.
Bronchial thermoplasty was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 and is the first non-drug therapy approved by for patients with severe asthma. During an asthma attack, the smooth muscle that lines the airways contracts excessively and restricts breathing. Bronchial thermoplasty uses a special scope inserted into the patient’s lungs to heat the airways and destroy some of the overactive smooth muscle. The long-term result is less resistance to airflow, and fewer asthma attacks.
"Bronchial thermoplasty should not be seen as a cure for asthma, or as a treatment for those with well controlled disease,” says Stephen Ryan, MD, a pulmonologist with MultiCare Pulmonary Specialists - Tacoma who performs the bronchial thermoplasty procedure. “However, it can be a useful tool in patients who continue to have disabling symptoms on the best medicines available."
The treatment takes place in three stages, approximately three weeks apart. Torres, whose asthma was so bad by this time that she almost didn’t qualify for the study, had her first thermoplasty treatment in March 2012.
“Right away I could breathe better,” says Torres. “I was so happy to go back for the second and third treatment.”
There’s still no return to running in Torres’ future, but she’s up to walking 4 miles on the treadmill and her asthma is well under control. The bronchial thermoplasty procedure even made it possible for her to treat another serious health issue that she hadn’t been able to address because of her asthma.
But best of all, says Torres, “I don’t get up in the morning and worry if I’m going to be okay. It gave me my life back.”
The MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation is currently conducting a 5-year safety study on bronchial thermoplasty. For more information about this study, or to find out if you might qualify to participate, please call Darcie Cruz, Supervisor for Pulmonary Research, at 253-403-0387.
Posted on Jun 5, 2013 in Research