New device being studied to help people sleep -

New device helps sleep apnea

A new device for the treatment of sleep apnea is being studied across the country. It's called the Apnex HGNS System.

Dr. David Winslow is the Medical Director and Principal Investigator for Kentucky Research. With the help of Dr. Andrew Gould, he will be implanting the device.

Here's how it works: The implantable therapy is placed under the skin, much like a pacemaker. An electrode works with a patient's breath patterns to stimulate the nerve in the throat that controls the back of the tongue. Called the hypolglossal nerve, "it moves the tongue forward and opens up the lower airway," Dr. Winslow said, "and the lower part of the throat basically opens it up and cures sleep apnea in most cases."

The device can be programmed to come on and shut off automatically, or the patient can also control the device through a remote control. While the device is on, the patient is unable to speak, so it's only used during the sleeping hours.

It may become a surgical option for people who've not found success using more traditional treatments like C-Pap.

"People need to come to terms, am I at the point I want to consider a surgical procedure," Dr. Gould said. "It's not a simple thing. I think people need to be aware we're making several incisions although they're small, but we are placing electrodes on important nerves."  

In an initial study in Australia, the device appears to be quite promising. "In the original study they had around 36 patients," Dr. Winslow said, "and when it was all said and done almost every one of those patients were either cured or almost cured."

Bonnie Stark is one of the first patients in the country to get the implanted device activated. She's suffered with sleep apnea for 10 years and tried C-Pap without success.  

Left untreated, some studies point to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Bonnie didn't hesitate to give the device a try. Within minutes of activating the device during Bonnie's sleep, years of sleep apnea induced snoring came to an end.

"The snoring got less and less and less and finally there was no snoring at all and her apnea went away. That was a big moment for me," described Winslow. 

Stark feels that finally getting treatment for this condition could prolong her life.   

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