New procedure helps COPD patients get their lives back

Carilion Clinic pulmonologist explains how it works
Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Walking from the bedroom to the bathroom may seem simple, but for someone with emphysema or COPD, it can be almost impossible. Now there is a medical procedure being done at Carilion Clinic that’s helping some people get their breath and their lives back.

Randy Ayers knows what it’s like to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, a degenerative lung disease.

The disease left her on the sidelines at her favorite place: Roc n Horse Stables in Moneta. She used to ride her Tennessee Walker Waylan, but in recent years all she could do is watch others ride.

“[It was] very hard to breath,” said Ayers. “I come out here and it’s all I could is to walk to the stall.”

Ayers was given daily medicine and forced to live life on the sidelines.

“It’s terrible when you can’t ride and you’re watching everybody ride,” Ayers said. “ Just taking a shower was hard ‘cause you can’t get your breath.”

But that changed after a doctor told her about something called the Zephyr Valve.

To understand how it works, doctors explain lungs in patients with COPD retain air that can’t be used by the damaged part of the lung. Their lungs are inflated and push down on the diaphragm, making it tough to breathe.

“When the lung gets inflated it kind of pushes down on your diaphragm and and that changes the shape of the muscle that is the diaphragm,” said Carilion Clinic Pulmonologist Dr. Ed Rubio. “Because of that, taking a breath becomes really hard, because that muscle is not in the right position for you to easily [get] pressure to get air inside your lungs.”

This is where the Zephyr Valve helps. “We put a valve in the airway that feeds that [diseased[ area of the lung,” said Dr. Rubio. That causes the lung to collapse.

“And when it collapses it’s like a sponge; the whole volume goes down,” said Rubio. “So that diaphragm will come back into the shape you’re hoping you can start breathing better.”

For Randy Ayers, it worked.

“Day and night,” Ayers said. “I can go up and down my sisters’ steps now without oxygen.”

She can also now ride Waylan again.

“It just changed my whole world to almost the way it used to be,” Ayers said. “Being more active.”

Ayers said she’s been camping and now rides Waylan four or five times a week. “It’s just opened my whole life up again,” Ayers said. “I can do things that I couldn’t do before.“

“Now whenever I see anyone with oxygen I tell them ‘you can go get this done or see if you qualify,’” Ayers said.

The procedure is meant for people with moderate to severe emphysema. Patients generally spend one day in the hospital.

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