Doctors at Bryan Medical Center are the first in Nebraska to perform an innovative new procedure for severe asthma patients called bronchial thermoplasty (BT). It is an outpatient procedure for adults whose asthma is not controlled with medications.
Sharon Kosta, 39, of Lincoln, has been living with severe asthma since she was six. She has been taking steroid medications for 22 years, steadily increasing the dosage each year.
Last year, Kosta was in and out of the hospital every other month with her asthma, increasing her medications with each flare-up, but with no success. When she learned she was a candidate for bronchial thermoplasty, a procedure that would permanently open her constricted airways, she was excited to be Nebraska’s first patient.
Sharon’s pulmonologist, Dr. John Trapp, Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties, performed her bronchial thermoplasty at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb. “This is a very promising technology for patients whose asthma symptoms are not being controlled with medications,” says Dr. Trapp. “After this procedure, patients find they can do things they couldn’t do before.”
People with chronic asthma have a thickening of the smooth muscle that lines the airways, plus, that muscle is reactive and easily irritated. Exercise, allergies, dust or other irritants can narrow the airways causing wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath.”
“Asthma medications reduce the airway inflammation and reactivity,” explains Dr. Trapp. “BT treats the asthma in a unique way by shrinking the muscle, thus, reducing its reactivity.”
Bronchial thermoplasty is done in three separate treatments, each focusing on different areas of the lungs. The thermoplasty device travels through a long, flexible tube, called a bronchoscope, through the patient’s mouth or nose. The tip of the device extends and expands into the airway. It is heated with radiofrequency energy, shrinking the muscle and decreasing its reactivity. After the procedure, patients are usually able to go home the same day.
Since there are no nerves in the airways, bronchial thermoplasty isn’t painful. But, patients do feel worse for a day or two after the treatment because of airway swelling. “The first days after the treatment were difficult,” says Kosta. “But the results were well worth it. I went inter-tubing this summer and I was able to watch my 14 year-old son compete in his swim meets. It may not sound like much, but to me, it’s a big deal. Before BT, I could have never been outside in the heat like that.”
Sharon still takes asthma medication, but half as much as she did before she had BT. She is decreasing her dosage by 1 mg per week until she is completely off. “BT has impacted my life greatly. I enjoy more time with my family and have the opportunity to participate in more activities. I feel so lucky to be able to have had this treatment right here in Lincoln.”