New surgery helps sleep apnea patients

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by SHELLY SLATER / WFAA-TV

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaashelly

wfaa.com

Posted on February 26, 2010 at 12:17 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 26 at 12:17 AM

Billy Wallace has had 15 years of laying in bed but not actually resting.

Studies show Wallace used to stop breathing 42 times an hour at night, for 10 seconds at a time.

He has sleep apnea, a problem that took years to identify.

"I would say most patients who come to us, probably come for something else,” said Dr. Andy Chung with Forest Park Medical Center.

Chung says 10 million people nationwide are undiagnosed with the condition.

"I was fatigued and stressed all of the time," said Wallace.

Drugs didn't work, neither did special sleep apnea machines, so Wallace opted for a new surgery that some doctors call the missing link to helping fight sleep apnea.

The surgery keeps the tongue from obstructing the air pathway at night.

"We place permanent structures which are anchored on the inside of the jaw bone, and that prevents the tongue from falling back while you are sleeping,” said Chung.

Surgeries like this are becoming more in demand, as commercial truck and bus drivers are going through stricter screenings for sleep apnea. If they don't comply, they could lose their jobs, because lack of deep sleep isn't just exhausting - it's dangerous.

More importantly, they are going to have problems with their heart, lungs, they can have high blood pressure, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, poor sexual drive and ultimately a heart attack.

Wallace says eating food right now, can take up to an hour, as he recovers from surgery but he admits doctors warned him that wouldn't be easy at first.

"He told me it was going to hurt, he told me I'd be in pain, he was right. He told me I'd lose 20 pounds, he was right,” said Wallace.

But he got his life back.

Wallace is enjoying family time again, instead of hanging out in his bed, tired all the time.

"You'd be surprised at the things you neglect, you don't think you are, but you are,” said Wallace.

All sleep apnea surgeries are individualized. Patients may need more than one procedure done to truly get results.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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