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Bronchial thermoplasty treatments help patients breathe easier

Staff Report • Feb 26, 2014 at 12:10 PM

A year ago, Danny McAmis could only breathe at 70 percent capacity — even on his best days — due to worsening asthma symptoms.

Then he learned about an innovative technique that could ease or even clear his asthma. Bronchial thermoplasty, provided by Wellmont Medical Associates Pulmonology & Sleep in Kingsport, was a life-altering solution.

McAmis’ asthma had grown more severe the past two years, and his reliance on steroid medications had dramatically increased. Because his duties as a telephone line technician require him to carry heavy equipment, his breathing difficulties proved to be an enormous hindrance.

“Something had to be done about my asthma,” McAmis said. “I couldn’t make it through an entire shift at work, and I could never take a vacation or do anything active at home. But after the bronchial thermoplasty treatments, I’m at 100 percent every day — my breathing is unrestricted. It’s amazing.”

Bronchial thermoplasty is a three-part outpatient procedure that treats asthma by delivering concentrated bursts of mild heat to the smooth airways in the lungs. The heat limits the airways’ ability to constrict, and that alleviates asthma symptoms.

Dr. Wael El Minaoui, a pulmonologist with Wellmont Medical Associates Pulmonology & Sleep, performs the procedure at Holston Valley Medical Center. More than a dozen procedures have been completed, and El Minaoui said all of them have responded well.

“Providing bronchial thermoplasty is resulting in a marked improvement in patients’ quality of life,” El Minaoui said. “This procedure is really helping people, and I’m honored to be part of that.”

El Minaoui, a medical doctor, trained in bronchial thermoplasty shortly after the Food and Drug administration approved it as the first nonpharmaceutical therapy for asthma. He is the sole physician in the region to offer it, and Holston Valley is the only local hospital to provide the necessary equipment.

Each bronchial thermoplasty session takes less than an hour to perform, and it does not require incisions. While it is not a cure for asthma, it relieves symptoms enough for patients to significantly decrease their reliance on inhalers and other oral medications.

A recent study by Boston Scientific, an international company that develops technologies for health care, followed 162 bronchial thermoplasty patients for five years. Starting the year before patients began treatments, and concluding earlier this year, researchers found a 44 percent reduction in exacerbated asthma attacks and a 78 percent drop in asthma-related emergency department visits. Additionally, inhaled medication use dropped by nearly 20 percent.

As a result, bronchial thermoplasty’s benefits are far-reaching. With fewer health problems, missed days of work or school for asthma-related problems practically disappear.

Bronchial thermoplasty is a relatively new procedure — the first cases were performed in 2010 — but is steadily growing in popularity among pulmonologists and allergists. Its profile is also rising, as successful patient stories have been profiled on National Public Radio and The New York Times.

“Patients who have undergone bronchial thermoplasty are back at work, playing sports, gardening and spending time with their families,” El Minaoui said. “The breathing problems that restricted them before are almost gone.”

Though recoveries vary from patient to patient, many people, including McAmis, receive treatments without missing a beat in their work and personal lives.

“Dr. El Minaoui and my primary care physician were thrilled with how well I responded to this procedure,” McAmis said. “Bronchial thermoplasty exceeded all of our expectations.”

Bronchial thermoplasty is only available for adults. More information is available by calling Wellmont Medical Associates Pulmonology & Sleep at (423) 247-5197.

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