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New Technology for Treating Sleep Apnea

Category: Patient Stories
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How Inspire, a CPAP alternative, is helping patients

“It was just horrible,” said Debra Wright, thinking back to her experience trying to use a CPAP machine. “I could not handle having that thing on my face. I lasted three nights before deciding that I just couldn’t do it.”

CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is a medical device used to treat sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep, often due to blocked airways. However, 50% of patients can't tolerate it or struggle with the mask. Debra was one of these patients.

Knowing a CPAP machine wasn’t for her, Debra talked to her primary care provider, Dr. Amy Hilde-Phillips at St. Luke’s Hibbing Family Medical Clinic. Her doctor had a thought: perhaps Debra would be a good candidate for Inspire.

Inspire is a cutting-edge medical device that serves as a CPAP alternative in combating sleep apnea. It doesn’t require any masks or heavy machinery. Instead, it works through a small device placed inside the body.

At first, Debra was hesitant. “I was a little nervous about the idea of having something implanted,” she said. “But my sleep apnea had to be dealt with. Plus, when my grandkids slept over, they were waking me up several times a night, telling me I was snoring! I told Dr. Amy that I was willing to try anything.”

A month later, Debra met Dr. Andrew Davis at Aspirus St. Luke's Ear, Nose & Throat Associates to learn more.

How Inspire works

"Sleep apnea is caused by the muscles of the back of the throat closing while a person is asleep," said Dr. Davis. "This can cause loud snoring and pauses in breathing that sleep apnea is known for and leaves a person unable to get a good night's sleep."

Obstructive sleep apnea diagram

Inspire works by sensing a patient's normal breathing process and provides gentle stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve when a patient's airway collapses. This is the nerve that controls the tongue, which is involved in maintaining an open airway. The result is that patients can breathe freely throughout the night, without any disruptions.

After meeting with Dr. Davis, Debra was confident. “Dr. Davis is just an all-around great guy,” she said. “He’s smart, approachable and has a great sense of humor. He explained everything so well. After talking with him, I was ready to move forward.”

Inspire device set from

Getting used to life with Inspire

Implanting an Inspire device requires two incisions, one under the chin and the other just below the collarbone. Most people leave the hospital the same day.

Debra’s surgery went smoothly and about a month afterwards, she saw Dr. Davis to check in and turn her device on. “Inspire is controlled with a small remote,” said Dr. Davis. “Patients turn it on every night with a remote. You also can change the strength of the stimulation with the remote.”

Debra credits her medical team for helping her through the brief adjustment period. “I had it turned up too high at first,” said Debra. “But I did a sleep study shortly after and found out I could use a lower level. My sleep has improved dramatically!”

Unused CPAP machine on bed

Treating sleep apnea at St. Luke’s

For those with moderate to severe sleep apnea who are unable to successfully using a CPAP machine, Inspire is a great option.

“Inspire fills a huge void in sleep apnea treatment,” said Dr. Davis. “CPAP will always be the gold standard therapy for sleep apnea, but there are so many who aren’t able to use it. This means millions of patients across the country are not getting the help they need. Inspire is an effective and proven alternative.”

A year after the implantation, Debra remains elated with her decision. She praises Dr. Davis for his expertise and ongoing support. “The result has been tremendous,” she said. “I am so grateful. And Dr. Davis has been wonderful about following up with me. I would definitely recommend him.”

However, Debra isn’t the only one enjoying more restful sleep thanks to Inspire. “My grandkids are pretty thrilled about it, too!” she said with a chuckle. “No more sleepless nights at grandma’s.”

If you think you’d benefit from Inspire, talk to your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care provider, establish at St. Luke’s by calling 218.249.4000.

This article was originally featured on pages 32 & 33 in the December 2023 issue of The Woman Today magazine.