Emphysema is a serious lung disease, with symptoms that drastically affect an individual’s quality of life. The wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath can make the simplest activities – from going to the grocery store to walking the dog – difficult.
Smoking is the most common cause of emphysema. The disease damages the tiny air sacs in the lungs that take in oxygen, destroying the lungs’ ability to expand and contract effectively. Over time, the lungs overfill with air, leaving less room for the air coming in with each breath.
“Take a deep breath in, and hold it. Now, without letting that first big breath out, try to breathe in again. That constricted feeling – like you can’t get enough air – is what people with emphysema experience all the time,” said Nancy Collar, RRT-NPS, AE-C, ACCS, Inova Lung Navigator, Interventional Pulmonology. “That’s why this procedure – bronchoscopic lung volume reduction, or BLVR, is so groundbreaking.”
During the nonsurgical BLVR procedure, the interventional pulmonologist places several one-way valves in the lung and purposely deflates one of the lung’s sections (called lobes). The procedure does not require any cutting or incisions, and it takes less than an hour to complete. After the lobe is deflated, patients are typically able to breathe more deeply and get more oxygen with each breath.
Last year, this procedure changed the life of Doris Toney. Now 70, Doris has been fighting emphysema for decades. “The first sign that I had emphysema was in my late 20s. I was told to stop smoking, but I didn’t listen. I finally quit smoking for good in 2000, but by that time it was way too late. The damage had been done. It was very hard for me to accept, as I knew that I had done the damage to my lungs myself.”
Doris’s life was increasingly affected by her emphysema. She was less and less able to do the things she wanted to do, eventually rarely leaving the house. She struggled with pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression. Her doctor told her she would need to be on oxygen 24 hours a day, and there was talk of putting her in hospice care.
Finally, Doris had had enough. “I wasn’t happy with my lifestyle, and I certainly wasn’t happy with what my doctor was telling me. I started researching on the computer, determined to find new treatments for my COPD and emphysema. That’s when I found the Zephyr valve procedure,” she said.
Doris chose Inova for the procedure and traveled from Lynchburg, VA. Inova’s expertise, world-class team and dedication to our patients sets our program apart. The program’s physician leader, Amit “Bobby” Mahajan, MD, FCCP, DAABIP, who is the Medical Director of the Inova Interventional Pulmonology and Complex Airway Disease Program, has more than 15 years of experience using endobronchial valves. “Dr. Mahajan is a leader in the field,” Nancy said.
Our team also features two dedicated lung navigators, who walk the patients through the process, help with logistics like appointment scheduling, and ensure they understand their disease, how this treatment can help and their role in their better breathing. The program also has excellent follow up care with dedicated respiratory therapists who conduct follow-up testing to measure patients’ improvement in lung function for a year after the procedure.
Doris underwent a series of tests to evaluate her breathing, her heart and her lung tissue to determine whether the procedure might benefit her. She also participated in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, to make sure that her lung muscles were as strong as possible before the procedure. Then, on November 30, 2020, Dr. Mahajan – “Dr. Bobby” to his patients – placed five valves in her lung. She spent three days in the hospital, which is typical, before going home.
“Afterward, I had no pain, no incisions, and I was breathing better,” Doris said. “Dr. “Bobby,” Nancy Collar and all the staff were the best.”
After recovering from the procedure, Doris was able to get back to a more active lifestyle, including events with family and friends, going to church, and caring for her great-grandchildren. “I can’t explain how different my life is now compared to before the procedure. I’m a new person! I do housework, vacuum, mop the floors, I exercise five days a week and do upper body exercises, too,” Doris said. “Just last week I kept the children two days in a row – a 5-month-old and a 3-year-old. It was wonderful. I feel like I have my life back.”