Hope for emphysema sufferers

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
January 9, 2008 3:29:02 PM PST
Emphysema is the fourth leading killer in the United States, with more than three million sufferers. While there is no cure, doctors are working on a new technique that may help patients breathe better on their own.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

For Barbara Greenfield, the simplest chores are taxing.

An oxygen tank and cord are now her lifeline. Barbara started smoking at 15. By time she reached 55, she was up to three packs a day and had early stage emphysema.

"If you think of the lung as something like a sponge, a bath sponge with all the little bubbles, it destroys the walls between those bubbles," said Dr. Armin Ernst, Chief of Interventional Pulmonology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The destroyed walls make it difficult for patients to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide.

"I feel like I am suffocating," Greenfield said.

Dr. Ernst is studying a minimally invasive treatment that could help. During the procedure, doctors place a broncoscope through the mouth, then make six small openings. Those openings to help the patient breathe. Stents are then inserted to keep the holes from collapsing.

"The stents are covered with a medication that's called taxol, that is designed to prevent this from happening." Dr. Ernst said.

Barbara's husband hopes the treatment will help her live more comfortably.

"There's always the concern of how much it will do to her and, ultimately, limiting the length of our life together," Martin Greenfield said.

Barbara hopes she'll be breathing a little easier

"This is my only hope," she said. "It's not gooing to cure me, but it is going to perhaps make my life a little simpler."