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New treatment lets apnea patients get good night's sleep

Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | December 23, 2014

Alison Padlan Gillette
Dr. M. Boyd Gillespie performed the first Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation device implantation in South Carolina after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Some people say that life ends when you stop dreaming. Camden resident Thomas Rose didn’t die, but he was pretty miserable.

Photo provided
Apnea patient Thomas Rose, who is using the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation System

“I hadn’t had a dream probably since last year because I couldn’t get in REM sleep,” the financial advisor said. REM stands for rapid eye movement, the sleep phase during which most dreaming takes place. 

Rose was getting so little oxygen when he tried to sleep that a doctor told him it could cause a stroke. “I could hardly perform my daily activities.” 

Healthy sleepers go through several phases during the night. Rose’s ability to cycle through those stages was affected by his obstructive sleep apnea. His upper airway muscles became too relaxed when he slept and failed to keep his airway open.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that can cause loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, sleep disturbance, impaired quality of life and an increased risk of heart disease and car accidents, according to M. Boyd Gillespie, M.D. He directs the Snoring and Sleep Apnea Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Gillespie decided Rose was a good candidate to become the first person in the state (outside of a clinical trial) to receive a new device called the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation System. It’s a small pacemaker-like device inserted under the skin of the chest.

An electrode connects to one of the major nerves that control the upper airway muscles and stimulates it to control tongue movement, keeping Rose’s airway open.

He has a hand-held remote control to activate the device before going to sleep.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found it dramatically reduced the severity of sleep apnea problems, including snoring. Gillespie was an author of the study.

Rose said he was nervous about being the first person in South Carolina outside of a clinical trial to try the device. “But I was so worn out from not being able to get any sleep, in a way I was looking forward to it.”

Rose had to wait a few weeks after the device was implanted for his surgical wounds to heal before the doctor could activate it. Once he did, Rose said the fog that had settled in his mind started to lift.

“Since I have this new Inspire device, I’m getting a good night’s sleep,” Rose said. “I don’t dream every night, but I started getting enough sleep.” Apnea affects the ability to remember dreams.

Gillespie said the idea of stimulating the upper airway muscles to stay open during sleep has been around for more than 20 years. But it wasn’t until recently that the technology behind the Inspire device became available.

In the study he described in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 85 percent of the 126 patients implanted with the device continued to use it nightly as their main form of sleep apnea treatment. He said the surgery and device have an excellent safety record and received full Food and Drug Administration approval in April 2014.

The MUSC Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery offers the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation device to qualified patients with obstructive sleep apnea. 

Rose sent some friends to see Gillespie to find out if the device would work for them.

“I know a lot of people who have bad sleep apnea who are having the same problems I’ve had,” Rose said. “This Inspire has changed my life.”



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Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation Device

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