Submitted by: PeaceHealth

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is the first in Washington state and the fourth in the western United States to offer a new lung valve treatment for patients with emphysema, a severe form of chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). Recently approved by the FDA under their “Breakthrough Devices” status, the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve treatment represents a major advancement because it is the first minimally invasive procedure to help emphysema sufferers breathe easier without major surgery. Done through a simple bronchoscopy, the valves improve patients’ quality of life by allowing them to breathe easier and experience less shortness of breath while completing their daily routines and activities. 

First lung valve treatment patient, Marjorie Cowee. Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

78-year-old Mount Vernon resident Marjorie Cowee was the first patient to undergo the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve procedure at PeaceHealth St. Joseph on Oct.10. She reported that emphysema had previously reduced her quality of life as breathing became more and more difficult. “It was very uncomfortable. I constantly felt winded and had to talk myself out of panic attacks,” she shared. “I had to use my electronic scooter to get to meals and around my retirement facility because I just couldn’t walk without feeling breathless.”

“Since the treatment,” said Cowee, “I haven’t used the scooter at all. I walk to all activities and meals. I feel like a new person.”

Marjorie Cowee (patient, center) with her caregiving team: Mario Sosaya, RRT/NPS (left), and Amir Gharaei, MD (right). Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

“We are very excited to offer this new treatment option because emphysema patients are often in poor physical condition, struggling with each breath despite medication therapy,” said Amir Gharaei, MD, pulmonologist with PeaceHealth Medical Group Pulmonary Medicine who completed Cowee’s procedure. Continued Gharaei, “Before the Zephyr Valves, the only options for relief were highly invasive treatments, like lung transplantations. This minimally invasive procedure has the potential to improve the quality of life for many who suffer from emphysema in our community.”

“It’s just an incredible feeling to be able to bring this new technology to our patients,” added Mario Sosaya, RRT/NPS, manager of respiratory care at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. “The recovery is minimal, and they see results in as little as 45 days.”

Zephyr valve. Photo courtesy: Pulmonx Corp.

Emphysema is a progressive and life-threatening lung disease. There is no cure, and patients live with severe shortness of breath that keeps them from doing simple daily activities, like walking or taking a shower, without pausing to catch their breath or resting. This extreme shortness of breath is caused when air becomes trapped in parts of the lung that are damaged by the disease.

The one-time procedure blocks off these damaged areas of the lungs so that air no longer gets trapped within them. It is completed during a simple bronchoscopy that requires no cutting or incisions. On average, four tiny valves are placed in the airways to block off the diseased parts of the lungs to allow the healthier parts of the lungs to expand and take in more air, thereby also relieving pressure on the diaphragm. This results in patients being able to breathe easier and experience less shortness of breath.

Visual representation of the procedure. Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

“It can really make a night-and-day difference for those people with debilitating emphysema who qualify for the procedure. It’s one of the many ways our team is staying on the leading edge of pulmonary medicine technology to support the best possible outcomes for our patients,” Dr. Gharaei said.

“It clearly changed my life overnight for the better,” shared Cowee. 

More information about the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve procedure can be found atwww.MyLungsMyLife.com. More information about the PeaceHealth Medical Group Pulmonary Medicine Clinic can be found at https://www.peacehealth.org/phmg/bellingham-lynden/pulmonary-medicine.

About PeaceHealth: Based in Vancouver, Wash., PeaceHealth is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center provides quality care for northwest Washington with its full-service 253-bed hospital and PeaceHealth Medical Group clinics. Key services in Bellingham include comprehensive cardiology, oncology, orthopedic and rehabilitation services and a joint venture outpatient imaging service. Visit us online at peacehealth.org.

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