Transforming the quality of life for patients with COPD at UConn Health

Nearly 16 million people in the United States have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also called emphysema or chronic bronchitis, develops slowly and worsens over time. Many people with COPD avoid activities they previously enjoyed because they become short of breath easily. When COPD becomes severe, it can interfere with even the most basic tasks, such as simple housework, walking, bathing, and dressing.

Dr. Omar Ibrahim, Chief of Interventional Pulmonary Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center

Three years ago, Dr. Omar Ibrahim, chief of interventional pulmonary medicine at UConn Health, was the first in Connecticut to perform endobronchial valve surgery and did it on more eligible patients than anyone else in the state. Operation. Two grateful patients share how these valves have changed their lives and they consider them a miracle.

Endobronchial valve surgery is a minimally invasive treatment option that requires no cuts or incisions. Microvalves are placed in targeted areas of diseased lungs where air is trapped. Trapped air can cause shortness of breath. One-way valves release trapped air, allowing patients to breathe more easily and with less difficulty breathing. The valve is designed to block diseased parts of the lungs, thereby reducing excessive inflation. This allows the healthier parts of the lungs to expand, making breathing easier.

Endobronchial valves are recommended for adults with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) emphysema, reduced lung function, and shortness of breath. The valve helps improve lung function and quality of life.

Peter Cowley
More than a decade ago, Peter Cawley, a smoker for more than 50 years, was diagnosed with emphysema, a disease caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Life with COPD emphysema is difficult, and Cowley struggled with many of the daily activities that people take for granted, including talking for long periods of time. He follows the treatment regimen and uses medications and a rescue inhaler. He needs oxygen while sleeping and when his breathing becomes shallow when he exerts himself. At the time, he believed it was the only option to manage his condition.

Peter Cawley – “A toast to UConn Health and all those who have helped me.”

A family member in Albany, New York, saw a story on television about a man who had endobronchial valve surgery for COPD and improved his quality of life. Cawley immediately began researching the procedure, calling Medicare to make sure it would be covered and discussing it with his primary care physician, Dr. James Stewart. After further research by Stewart, they both agreed it was a good option worth exploring.

“I live in Rhode Island and didn’t want to travel to the city for surgery, so I was excited when Dr. Stewart’s office approached Dr. Ibrahim at UConn Health,” Cawley said.

“When I first spoke to Dr. Ibrahim, I didn’t think he was optimistic that it would work for me, but he said he wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt and agree to meet with me,” Cawley said.

“Due to some borderline heart problems I didn’t think he was the best candidate for this surgery and I knew he would have the surgery but was worried he wouldn’t be able to do the post-op care. However, he was persistent and he did well, he Want to come back and do another lung,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim had him complete a series of tests and begin pulmonary rehabilitation to ensure he was ready for surgery.

“One of the requirements is that you do pulmonary rehab before surgery, so if you can’t do pulmonary rehab, you’re probably not a candidate,” Ibrahim said.

Cawley underwent a series of tests, including X-rays and CT scans, and went to UConn Health for a nuclear medicine test to determine whether he had fissure nodules in his lungs. He was ready to have the surgery done, but the advent of COVID-19 put elective surgeries on hold.

Last year he was finally able to have surgery and the valve was placed in his left lung, and he spent three days in hospital for evaluation as part of a pre-discharge protocol.

Cawley and his wife, Carol, have seen huge improvements since owning Valve. He goes to the gym three mornings a week and walks on the treadmill and rides a recumbent bike the other days. He is stronger and has more energy, which allows him to plan and cook all their meals.

“When I saw the cardiologist after the surgery, he said my tests showed I was 5 to 6 years younger,” Cawley said. “If I can say I gained at least five years of quality of life, that’s a pretty big benefit.”

While the valves won’t change the progression of the disease, they will help him breathe better and improve his quality of life. He still takes prescribed medication and uses oxygen when needed, but finds he doesn’t need it as much anymore.

“I can leave the house now and not even take my phone with me anymore because I’m so confident in his progress and he’s made so much progress,” said Carol Cawley, Peter’s wife. “It also helps that he has a positive attitude.”

In November this year, Peter celebrated his 79th birthday and bought himself a new car. “I’m starting my 8th decade with a new car, it’s kind of like a hot rod with a loud engine, I wouldn’t be where I am now without Dr. Ibrahim, I’m really grateful Everything he’s done. Has done it,” Cawley said. “I am also extremely grateful to my wife Carol and son Pete for supporting me in this matter.”

“Dr. Ibrahim and his staff have been outstanding, and everyone I’ve met at UConn Health has been outstanding,” Cawley said. “You need to advocate for yourself, and that can make a big difference in your health care, to say I want to try it, and I’m grateful to Dr. Ibrahim for giving me that opportunity.”

Heather Bart

Lisa Petricca (UConn Health PA), Heather Butt (patient), Sandra Judson (patient), and Omar Ibrahim, MD, Chief of Interventional Pulmonary Medicine (UConn Health)

Heather Butt learned about valve surgery and made recommendations from a Facebook post from another UConn Health patient who had the procedure. She was also a long-time smoker but quit in 1996. In 2004, emotionally devastated by her mother’s death, she started smoking again. In 2011, she noticed changes in her breathing, and doctors discovered she had an aneurysm in her aorta and suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which led her to have open-heart surgery and quit smoking again, this time for good. Quit smoking.

Over the past three years, her COPD has continued to worsen to the point where she cannot take two steps without being able to breathe. She went to hospital more than 70 times between March and December last year because, although her oxygen levels were good, her diaphragm felt like a python writhing and she couldn’t breathe.

Her primary care provider referred Ibrahim to see if she was a candidate for endobronchial valve surgery. As with any surgery, Bart was worried and doubtful it would work, but Dr. Ibrahim took the time to explain it to her and reassure her.

Bart, who had four valves placed in her right lung, said: “It’s a miracle. I feel like a different person. It’s amazing that something so small can do such dramatic things.”

I went from being a patient to doing housework, folding laundry, and walking the dog with my husband.

“I am so grateful to Dr. Ibrahim and his team, I love UConn, it is a beautiful hospital and this surgery was a blessing and a miracle,” Bart said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without my husband Tommy, and my sons Eric and RJ who have supported me over the last year and I know it’s been hard on them.”

For more information about endobronchial valve surgery, call 860-679-8300 and ask to speak with Noreen Allsop RN.

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