Ralph wasn’t always health oriented, but after the Zephyr Valve treatment he wants to do a 5K.
Age at Treatment: 57
Hospital: Froedtert Memorial Hospital/Medical College of Wisconsin, Pulmonary Medicine
Date of Procedure: June 2021
Life Before Zephyr® Valves:
Breathing was always difficult for me, but I was always told I had chronic bronchitis. At about age 25, I was diagnosed with COPD, but being young and stupid, I kept smoking. I was going to live life the way I wanted. Then at age 35, I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), although it was not as severe compared to others with the disease.
I started having real trouble about 10 years ago. I was a carpenter, remodeling kitchens and baths. One day working on a job with my brother, I was carrying some cabinets and began having serious difficulty breathing. I finally quit smoking and put up with the breathing trouble for 8–9 years. When I could take my time doing daily activities, my breathing didn’t bother me. I could walk a mile and a half with no problem as long as it was flat and I wasn’t carrying anything. Otherwise, I would be completely out of breath. After a few years I switched from carpentry to truck driving, but that didn’t last long because after a while I couldn’t do long trips.
I was seeing a CF specialist for years, but they had been overlooking my COPD which had become more severe. When I changed doctors and began seeing Dr. Rose Franco, a CF specialist in Milwaukee, she said the CF was not my problem anymore, but rather my emphysema. She’s the one who told me about the Zephyr Valve treatment. I decided pretty quickly to try it because it was minimally invasive and the valves could be removed. I completed the testing within a month and thankfully was a qualified candidate. I was told the amount of destruction was 70% in the upper lobes and 17% in the lower. I was already doing pulmonary rehabilitation, so we set up the procedure right away. Fortunately, my insurance covered the procedure.
Life After Zephyr Valves:
Dr. Jonathan Kurman placed three valves total in the upper lobe of my left lung. The procedure went well, but after a few days post-procedure, I had an unusual amount of pain which continued for a couple weeks. I couldn’t tell if the valves had improved my breathing because it hurt to inhale. I was breathing very shallowly. I finally went to the ER to get an X-ray to try and figure out what was causing this pain. It turned out to be pleurolysis which is a tearing of the pleural lining between the lung and rib cage. This tearing was happening because the lobes were deflating so fast and the lining didn’t have time to adjust slowly. Fortunately, by the third week, the pain had subsided and I was fine.
By the fifth week, I was breathing better, and my oxygen saturation numbers were up around 88–94. Six weeks post-procedure my FEV1 was 66% and my most recent PFT showed my FEV1 at 74%. It’s made a heck of a difference. My numbers have never been this good!
How I feel after having the Zephyr Valves compared to before is like night and day. I can carry things up the stairs again without becoming short of breath. I recently went to Tennessee to clean out my mom’s house. My wife Julie said, “There is no way you could have done that a year ago.”
In the past, I wasn’t very health oriented. Dr. Kurman said if I was just going to sit on the couch, then why bother having the valves. Now I try to be more active and make health a priority. I don’t want the valves to be a waste. I try to walk five miles a day. I’ve never been a runner or athletic, but I’d really like to try to do a 5K run.
My neighbor is going for testing to see if he’s a candidate for the valves. I’ve been talking to him about it and how, for me, it was a no brainer. Basically, I told him it’s minimally invasive and if it doesn’t work, the doctor can remove them. I felt like I had nothing to lose.
“The valves gave me back what I was missing. Now I have the confidence to do physical activity again.”
Results may vary.
Complications of the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve treatment can include but are not limited to pneumothorax, worsening of COPD symptoms, hemoptysis, pneumonia, dyspnea and, in rare cases, death.