AUSTIN -- A new treatment is available for asthma sufferers in Central Texas. It doesn't involve breathing machines nor medications, but this new device is quite literally providing asthma sufferers a breath of fresh air.
"It was just amazing how small my airways were," said Shelly McDaniel, an asthma patient and nurse at St. David's Medical Center.
McDaniel had suffered from severe asthma for most of her life.
"Horrible," she said. "It was just horrible. You can't breathe. There's shortness of breath and coughing to the point where I actually broke a rib."
Like other asthma sufferers, when her symptoms flared up, McDaniel would try treating them with portable breathing machines or medications.
"The medications would help, but it would be like putting a band-aid on it," she said. "Then as soon as I would get around something that would trigger it again, I would be right back at the start again."
Then McDaniel heard about a new procedure called Bronchial Thermoplasty.
"This is really groundbreaking technology," said Hugh Brown, the CEO of St. David's Georgetown Hospital. "Up to this point if a patient had severe asthma all the medical field could offer them was medications and breathing treatments. Now it can actually go in and, in the course of three procedures, perform a procedure in their lungs that makes a lot of those medications unnecessary."
Here's how it works: Asthma patients inherently have a problem with what's called the airway smooth muscle. It's responsible for constricting the bronchial tubes and leading to symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath and congestion.
Researchers at Boston Scientific developed Bronchial Thermoplasty after determining the airway smooth muscle is uniquely heat sensitive.
"Bronchial Thermoplasty emits a radio frequency or energy that is a cool heat," said Dominic de Keratry, a pulmonary care physician. "It's a little cooler than a hot cup of coffee."
It's not a burn, but it delivers the heated energy to the bronchial tubes. Over time that airway smooth muscle thins out or atrophies. The end result produces less restriction and fewer symptoms.
"It doesn't damage the lining of the bronchial tube or the wall of the bronchial tube, and the bronchial tubes stay intact," said Keratry.
St. David's Georgetown Hospital began using the technology three years ago because hospital officials say they could see the writing on the wall.
"Currently the way our health care system is set up, hospitals get paid for taking care of sick people," said Brown. "We actually make more money, if you will, if people continue to come to the emergency department and use the emergency services. However, it's not going to be too long from now though when we will be getting paid to keep people well. Technology like (Bronchial) Thermoplasty that can keep people out of the emergency department will really, really be an advantage."
It's already proven to be a huge advantage for McDaniel who was asked to rate her quality of life now compared to when she suffered from asthma.
"On a scale from 1-10, probably a 100," she said. "It's amazing. I can do things. I can do things now that I was never able to do before."
Brown says Medicare made a key decision in January. That's when it determined Bronchial Thermoplasty was no longer an experimental treatment. It's proven success is why Medicare is now paying for the procedure, as are many insurance companies.
Click here for a link to the Bronchial Thermoplasty procedure offered by St. David's.