New surgery for sleep apnea

Seven's On Call
November 13, 2007 9:00:00 PM PST
Imagine waking up from your sleep, not once or twice but dozens and sometimes even hundreds of times every night. It's a problem that affects millions of Americans.But now, there is a new medical procedure that can help people suffering from sleep apnea.

Eyewitness News Ken Rosato has the story.

Eileen Lightcap used to feel like she was in a fog-all day long.

"I just didn't have the desire to do anything because I was just too tired to do it," said Eileen Lightcap.

Doctors diagnosed Eileen with obstructive sleep apnea. It's caused by the throat closing during sleep, cutting off the airway and waking the body up. It's more than an annoyance. If untreated, it can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

"We know that people with sleep apnea have a higher mortality rate than people who do not have sleep apnea," said Dr. Karl Doghramji at Jefferson Sleep Disorder Center.

"When you think you could go to bed and not wake up the next day, I just don't think I was ready for that," said Lightcap.

That's one reason she chose to undergo a new surgical technique called a genial bone advancement trephine or G-bat.

"The tongue is attached to the very front portion of the jaw here," said Dr. Maurits Boon at Jefferson Medical College. "So if we can actually just move a very small portion of the jaw forward, we can pull the tongue forward and open the space behind the tongue."

During G-bat, doctors go in through an incision inside the lip. They move a portion of bone about the size of a penny, and then add a small permanent plate to keep the tongue from blocking the airway.

Doctors say there is no change to a patient's physical appearance and the surgery is quick. Some patients may feel numbness in the jaw and lips for several months.

For Eileen, it was a small price to pay.

"I still get tired, but I don't wake up tired," said Eilieen.