New device helping sleep apnea patients

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Did you know that more than 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea? That's according to health experts.

It's a serious problem that could lead to a heart attack or stroke. We spoke to a Savannah doctor to see how they are working to cure the scary condition.

The treatment for sleep apnea, for a long time, has been sleeping with a mask. Those masks are called CPAP machines and are the leading way that doctors help sleep apnea patients, but in the last few years, there's a new device helping more patients who aren't getting good results from the sleeping mask.

Here's the catch: that new device is surgically-implanted into your chest.

Sleep apnea is when a person wakes up several times a night because they literally cannot breathe. The airway is completely blocked. This restless sleep is impacting thousands right here in the Coastal Empire.

"Sleep apnea can be a devastating disease and a deactivating disease. It can suck the energy out of your life," said Dr. Anthony Costrini, Sleep Medicine Specialist.

Doctors say one of the tricky parts is, of those thousands who are suffering from sleep apnea, more than half don't actually know it.

"They might have hypertension or overweight or snore, or wake themselves up with snoring, have poor quality of sleep, or wake up with a headache. Sooner or later, they say 'something isn't right," Dr. Costrini said.

Jane Kiser was one of those people.

"At that point, I was literally shocked. They recommended a CPAP," she said.

The sleeping mask is worn around the face and is hooked to a breathing machine. Some people love it, and it has drastically changed their sleep apnea, but others haven't found success with it.

"It did feel claustrophobic. It was just very uncomfortable, and half the time, I wouldn't wear it. My husband was complaining that I was snoring badly," Kiser said.

This new implant is offering another option to sleep apnea patients who aren't finding help with the CPAP. Dr. Costrini says it is implanted just beneath the skin on the right side of the chest. When a patient turns on the device at night, a wire connected to the diaphragm signals nerves controlling the tongue to open the airway.

"You look terrible after the surgery. You have bandages here, and here, and here. When I came out, I was like, 'Oh my gosh,' it was very swollen, but all of that goes away very quickly."

In the end, Kiser says it was worth it, and it worked for her. Now, she's sleeping through the night without difficulty breathing.

"It's been wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I just turn it on at night, and I wake up in the morning, and it turns off automatically."

Dr. Costrini says 12 other patients have gone through with the implant at his office. There have been 5,000 implants performed across the country. Dr. Costrini says he's happy there's another option out there to fight sleep apnea.

We do want to mention the risks of this inspire implant. Some of the side effects mentioned on the company's website are pain, swelling, and temporary weakness of the tongue.

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