New procedure at Atrium giving hope to people whose breathing issues changed their lives

Dr. Jamie Yunger, a pulmonologist, performs non-surgical procedures that allow some with COPD to do things they couldn't do before. Yunger is shown holding a Zephyr valve, which allows air to leave part of a lung, but not enter it. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF
Caption
Dr. Jamie Yunger, a pulmonologist, performs non-surgical procedures that allow some with COPD to do things they couldn't do before. Yunger is shown holding a Zephyr valve, which allows air to leave part of a lung, but not enter it. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

A procedure used by doctors at Atrium Medical Center is letting people with severe COPD and emphysema do things they had to quit because of breathing issues — things like cleaning their house, or walking from the car to their fishing lake or a grandchild’s soccer game.

The minimally invasive procedure doesn’t require surgery, but patients have to stay in the hospital four or more days as a precaution.

“I had a couple guys that actually hadn’t mowed the lawn in years,” said Dr. Jamie Yunger, a pulmonologist, who was the first in the Cincinnati-Dayton region to perform the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve procedure. “And once we did this procedure, they were back out there cutting the grass, which they were pretty excited about.”

Yunger also was the second in Ohio to perform it. Several from his practice do the surgery, all at Atrium in Middletown, which leads Ohio in most procedures, with nearly 60.

Some with severe COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and emphysema often have swelling of parts of their lungs, in which “the bad portions of the lung push the good portions of lung out of the way,” Yunger said.

During the procedure, a scope goes down a patient’s airway and is used to place typically two to six valves in smaller air passages in a lung. The valves, about the shape of pencil erasers, let air out of a lung’s lobe, causing that area to collapse in on itself, which is a good thing.

That allows “for the healthier tissue to move into that space, and that provides benefits to their shortness of breath and their quality of life,” Yunger said.

“This is a non-surgical way of removing some of that bad tissue so that the good tissue is available for you to use,” he said. It can help some patients while they await lung transplants.

Caption
A Zephyr valve, which allows air to leave part of a lung but not enter it, is used as part of the procedure. PROVIDED

A Zephyr valve, which allows air to leave part of a lung but not enter it, is used as part of the procedure. PROVIDED
Caption
A Zephyr valve, which allows air to leave part of a lung but not enter it, is used as part of the procedure. PROVIDED

Ken McGuire of Pike County, Ohio, had the surgery a year ago, and, “I can’t brag enough about these things,” he said.

“They gave me endurance,” McGuire added. “It makes total sense. There’s not a single, solitary incision.”

The thing McGuire loved doing that he had to quit was drumming for two hours at a time. A former music teacher at Piketon High School and member of various bands, he now can drum two hours on good days.

McGuire learned about the procedure online when the Cleveland Clinic was working on it and sending information to the Food and Drug Administration for approval. He liked that it was an alternative to cutting out parts of the lungs and also was far less invasive than a lung transplant. He later traveled to Middletown after learning Atrium had performed Ohio’s most procedures.

“It’s been a nice addition to our practice, for those patients you feel like you’ve already done everything for them you can, and yet they’re just not that active and not doing what they want to do,” Yunger said. “The next option in many of these patients is transplant.”

Other Cincinnati groups recently started doing the procedures, but it’s such a new option that many primary-care doctors don’t even realize it’s a possibility. “So we’re trying to get the word out,” Yunger said.

Local patients have ranged in age from 45-90. Before a procedure, doctors perform CT-scans to try to identify one lobe that’s sicker than the rest.

Some 60-80% of patients locally have seen improvement with quality of life and shortness of breath, with more energy.

Candidates for the procedure are people who have received all the inhalers they can use. They must have quit smoking for at least 3-4 months and also go through pulmonary rehabilitation.

Caption
Here's an image of a Zephyr valve, used in non-surgical procedures that help COPD patients breathe better. PROVIDED

Here's an image of a Zephyr valve, used in non-surgical procedures that help COPD patients breathe better. PROVIDED
Caption
Here's an image of a Zephyr valve, used in non-surgical procedures that help COPD patients breathe better. PROVIDED


Free Zephyr Valve seminar

Dr. Jamie Yunger will host a free education seminar this week for patients and others interested in learning more about the Zephyr Valve procedure.

It will happen 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Atrium Medical Center Professional Office Building, Auditorium, Fifth Floor, 200 Medical Center Drive, Middletown, OH 45005.

Call toll-free 1-844-585-5859 to reserve a seat. To join the seminar remotely, visit ­https://bit.ly/3ipuuua .

About the Author

ajc.com