New sleep-apnea treatment comes to Poudre Valley Hospital

FORT COLLINS — Poudre Valley Hospital has joined an elite group of health-care facilities offering an innovative treatment for sleep apnea.

The condition made headlines recently when former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula was hospitalized, due in part to sleep apnea. Roughly 18 million people in the nation suffer from it, caused when a person’s breathing involuntarily pauses or even stops during sleep.

The disruptions can lead to more than just a restless night; complications from sleep apnea include hypertension, heart attacks and stroke.

The most common treatment is through Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, which involves wearing a mask over the nose and/or mouth. Through the mask, air is blown into a patient’s throats in order to keep the airway open when he or she breathes.

While success rates with CPAP are high, it’s not always the answer.

 Through Inspire therapy, an electrical stimulus is delivered to the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue, every time the patient breathes in. The stimulus prevents the tongue from falling backward and obstructing the airway. Courtesy UCHealth
Through Inspire therapy, an electrical stimulus is delivered to the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue, every time the patient breathes in. The stimulus prevents the tongue from falling backward and obstructing the airway. Courtesy UCHealth

“Some people just plain can’t tolerate it,” said Dr. Matthew Robertson, an otolaryngologist at Alpine Ear, Nose and Throat in Fort Collins. “So we’ve been looking for years at alternative treatments for sleep apnea that have traditionally involved surgery — taking tonsils out, trimming the palate — but we weren’t able to cure patients with that, and they would still end up back on CPAP.”

Anita Kitt is one of those sleep-apnea patients who was unable to deal with the CPAP mask.

“I was totally claustrophobic with it,” she said. “I couldn’ sleep. It whistled, it hissed, it did all kinds of stuff and I felt, I just couldn’t use it … it was very overwhelming to me.”

Now, thanks to a new procedure recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Kitt no longer has to tape her mouth shut at night. Called “Inspire” therapy, it stimulates the nerve that controls the tongue to keep the patient’s airway clear.

“There is a battery pack much like a pacemaker that sits under the skin on the chest wall, and coming off that are two wires,” Robertson said. “One goes to the hypoglossal nerve in the neck, and the other goes down between the ribs and senses when the patient is breathing in and breathing out — and when you breathe in, or inspire, it delivers a mild stimulus to that nerve which gives the tongue (firmness) and prevents it from flopping back and blocking the airway.”

The unit also comes with a remote control that allows the patient to easily turn it on at night and turn it off in the morning.


Learn more

For more information on Inspire therapy, go to uchealth.org/maskfree.


The procedure didn’t require much of a learning curve for Robertson.

“I do a similar surgery for epilepsy that’s called a vagus nerve stimulator, done for seizures,” he said. “I do more of those than anyone else in the region, and when Inspire became approved, I was approached to do this because it’s such a similar surgery. It’s a different nerve but the technology is the same.”

In February, Kitt became the first patient to receive the Inspire therapy at Poudre Valley Hospital, putting the facility into an exclusive club. Prior to this, the nearest locations where the surgery was being performed were Stanford University in Northern California and Baylor University in Houston.

Robertson said the procedure can reduce the number of nighttime apnea episodes by more than two-thirds. But he also pointed out that not everyone diagnosed with the condition makes a good candidate.

“There’s a pretty rigid formula that needs to be followed to make sure we’re not doing this on the wrong people,” he said. “One is BMI — this is for people with a BMI (body mass index) of 32 or less … so that’s one exclusion criteria, and it’s only for those who have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. It’s not for people who have mild problems. This is definitely a last-ditch effort. And they have to have a true, vetted CPAP intolerance.”

FORT COLLINS — Poudre Valley Hospital has joined an elite group of health-care facilities offering an innovative treatment for sleep apnea.

The condition made headlines recently when former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula was hospitalized, due in part to sleep apnea. Roughly 18 million people in the nation suffer from it, caused when a person’s breathing involuntarily pauses or even stops during sleep.

The disruptions can lead to more than just a restless night; complications from sleep apnea include hypertension, heart attacks and stroke.

The most common treatment is through Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, which involves wearing a mask over the nose and/or mouth. Through the mask, air is blown into a patient’s throats in order to keep the airway open when he or she breathes.

While success rates with CPAP are high, it’s not always the answer.

 Through Inspire therapy, an electrical stimulus is delivered to the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue, every time the patient breathes in. The stimulus prevents the tongue from falling backward and obstructing the airway. Courtesy UCHealth
Through Inspire therapy, an electrical stimulus is delivered to the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the tongue, every time the patient breathes in. The stimulus prevents the tongue from falling backward and obstructing the airway. Courtesy UCHealth

“Some people just plain can’t tolerate it,” said Dr. Matthew Robertson, an…