Sleep Apnea Treatment Helps Patient Travel the World

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Heather Pulito had never flunked a test before in her life. The first time she did, it was a matter of life and death. During a sleep study, she stopped breathing 46 times in just one hour.

Heather had gone in for the sleep study to find out if her loud snoring was something that needed attention before going on a cruise with her husband. The failed sleep study was clear: she had obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea happens when breathing is disrupted because the soft tissue in the throat collapses. The condition was causing the troublesome snoring and daytime sleepiness Heather had been experiencing. But sleep apnea can also lead to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.

“I didn’t realize what trouble I was in or what kind of damage I was doing to myself by not getting the air I needed,” Heather said. “I had snored for a long time and it was getting really bad. I was making all the rest of my organs work much harder.”

People with sleep apnea often benefit from a CPAP machine, which provides continuous positive airway pressure therapy during sleep. But 40 percent of the 25 million people with sleep apnea in the U.S. can’t tolerate the CPAP machine.

Heather’s eczema and claustrophobia meant she needed to explore other options. But the alternatives, like nighttime oxygen, made traveling much more difficult.

“Carrying an extra suitcase for my 50-pound oxygen enhancer was challenging,” Heather said, “and tolerating the noise it made at night was a burden. I also couldn’t use it when I spent the night at my favorite place in the world: an island in the middle of a lake that doesn’t have any power. At that point, I was ready to try something else.”

Heather’s doctor evaluated her overall health and performed testing to determine if something called Inspire Therapy might work.

Inspire is a minimally invasive, implantable device that monitors breathing during sleep and delivers mild stimulation to key airway muscles open. The Inspire system works completely inside the body with a person’s natural breathing process and the accompanying remote control allows patients to turn the therapy on and off, adjust stimulation strength and pause stimulation during the night if needed.

Hartford Hospital was one of the first hospitals in the Northeast to offer Inspire.

Before long, Heather found out she was a candidate for Inspire and decided to sign up. The device was implanted and she was able to get back to her normal activities within a few days. Best of all, she noticed a real difference.

“I had another sleep study and I hadn’t been home a couple hours when the doctor called,” Heather said. “He told me I passed with flying colors. No more sleep apnea.”

The device has improved Heather’s quality of life significantly, and has allowed her to see the world—without the extra luggage. But most importantly, she’s no longer afraid of waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air when she travels.

“For years I’ve wanted to go on a cruise and I couldn’t because of my snoring,” Heather said. “Now we can. We just went to Florida last year and next we’re going to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.”

“I wake up with a ton more energy—ready and raring to go. I’m healthier and more enthusiastic. I just can’t believe the difference.”

Think you or someone you know might have sleep apnea? The Hartford Hospital Sleep Disorder Center can help. Call 860.493.1950.

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