Patient Marjorie is grateful for her caregiving team, respiratory specialist Mario Sosaya, left, and Dr. Amir Gharaei, who did the procedure. 

Procedure has just been FDA-approved; few places do it 

BELLINGHAM — PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is the first medical facility in Washington state and only the fourth in the western United States to offer a new lung valve treatment for patients with emphysema, a severe form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with “Breakthrough Devices” status, the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve treatment represents a major advancement because it is the first minimally invasive procedure to help emphysema sufferers breathe easier without major surgery, PeaceHealth says.

Done through a simple bronchoscopy, the valves improve patients’ quality of life by allowing them to breathe easier and experience less shortness of breath while completing their daily routines and activities.

Marjorie Cowee, a 78-year-old Mount Vernon resident, was the first patient to undergo the valve procedure at PeaceHealth St. Joseph on Oct. 10. Emphysema had previously reduced her quality of life as breathing became more and more difficult.

“It was very uncomfortable. I constantly felt winded and had to talk myself out of panic attacks,” she said. “I had to use my electronic scooter to get to meals and around my retirement facility because I just couldn’t walk without feeling breathless.”

Since the treatment, Cowee now reports, “I haven’t used the scooter at all. I walk to all activities and meals. I feel like a new person.”

Amir Gharaei, pulmonologist with PeaceHealth Medical Group Pulmonary Medicine, did Cowee’s procedure.

“We are very excited to offer this new treatment option because emphysema patients are often in poor physical condition, struggling with each breath despite medication therapy,” said Gharaei. “Before the Zephyr Valves, the only options for relief were highly invasive treatments, like lung transplantations. This minimally invasive procedure has the potential to improve the quality of life for many who suffer from emphysema in our community.”

Added Mario Sosaya, manager of respiratory care, “The recovery is minimal, and they see results in as little as 45 days.”

Emphysema is a progressive and life-threatening lung disease. There is no cure, and patients live with severe shortness of breath that keeps them from doing simple daily activities, like walking or taking a shower, without pausing to catch their breath or resting. This extreme shortness of breath is caused when air becomes trapped in parts of the lung that are damaged by the disease.

The one-time procedure blocks off these damaged areas of the lungs so that air no longer gets trapped within them. It is completed during a simple bronchoscopy that requires no cutting or incisions. On average, four tiny valves are placed in the airways to block off the diseased parts of the lungs to allow the healthier parts of the lungs to expand and take in more air, thereby also relieving pressure on the diaphragm. This results in patients being able to breathe easier and experience less shortness of breath.

“It can really make a night-and-day difference for those people with debilitating emphysema who qualify for the procedure. It’s one of the many ways our team is staying on the leading edge of pulmonary medicine technology to support the best possible outcomes for our patients,” Dr. Gharaei said.

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