DALLAS – More than 300 million people worldwide are affected by asthma, but a North Texas hospital is the first to try a ground-breaking procedure that offers long-term relief.
"It's like heaven," said 70-year-old Judy Kassees about working in the garden. "A little bit of heaven."
After being deprived of her garden for years because of asthma, picking weeds is a joy for Kassees.
"I told my husband, I would think it'd be easier to die than to struggle like this trying to breathe," Kassees said. "I just couldn't breathe."
Medication could not control her asthma. So, she was thrilled to try the first FDA-approved, drug-free treatment for asthma.
The treatment is called bronchial thermoplasty. A thin, flexible tube goes to the source of an asthma attack, the bronchial tubes in the lungs.
A controlled blast of radiofreqency energy is applied, shrinking the tissue.
"And makes it much less likely to constrict and cause an asthma attack," said Dr. Gary Weinstein, Texas Health Dallas pulmonologist.
Dr. Weinstein has done about a dozen bronchial thermoplasty cases so far. All with good results.
"This is very exciting," Dr. Weinstein said, with an added caution, "First of all, this is not for all asthma patients. This is for the population of patients who have severe, persistent asthma, in spite of all the best medicines."
Up to three sessions under conscious sedation are required to treat all airways.
Risks include a possible lung puncture. Some patients also have a brief surge in asthma symptoms for about a week after treatment.
The treatment is not recommended for patients under 18 years old.
One clinical trial, however reported reductions in severe asthma attacks, missed work, hospitalizations and emergency room visits as a result of the procedure.
Judy Kassees used to be a regular in the emergency room. She has not been there since having her series of bronchial thermoplasty treatments.
"It's just a miracle," Kassees said. "I can breathe, I can do anything I need to do."
Now, she works in the garden all she wants, while her asthma medication stays inside in a drawer.