Breathing new life: New procedure helps asthma sufferers

Taylor Mosley’s asthma flare-ups were so severe that she sometimes wondered when her next wheezing breath might be her last.

Mosley, 22, of Fort Worth, has relied on steroids and her rescue inhaler for years to keep her asthma in check but said she still would wind up in the hospital once or twice a month in intensive care, often for days at a time. Her health led her to drop out of college, caused her to miss work and kept her from participating in sports and outdoor activities for fear of triggering an asthma attack, she said.

“Emotionally, you just feel like you are going to die any minute,” Mosley said.

But a newly available medical treatment in Fort Worth has Mosley breathing easier for the first time in years. In March, Mosley was the first patient to undergo the three-part bronchial thermoplasty procedure now offered at Texas Health Southwest Fort Worth for those whose severe asthma cannot be controlled by medication alone.

“Now I feel free. I don’t have a ball and chain around my foot and I can go and start to do the things I want to do,” said Mosley, who has started running and is planning her first camping trip with her family.

An estimated 25.9 million Americans have asthma, according to the most recent American Lung Association report. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of those have a severe case of the lung disease, which can lead to numerous emergency room visits, lost productivity at work and even death.

Thickened airway muscles

Bronchial thermoplasty, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, does not cure asthma but is designed to reduce inflammation of the airways and improve patients’ quality of life, said Dr. Huy Duong, a pulmonary critical care physician at Texas Health Southwest.

Through the minimally invasive procedure, a small catheter is inserted into the lungs and radio frequency energy is used to heat the lung tissue and reduce the thickness of the smooth muscles that become inflamed during an allergy attack. The heating process limits the muscles’ ability to constrict, making breathing easier for the patient.

“People with asthma over time develop thickened airway muscles. When they get an asthma attack, that causes the airway muscles to constrict,” said Duong, who performed the procedure on Mosley. “The idea is that if you deliver thermal energy to the muscles and thin them out, people will have fewer attacks.”

Duong said the treatment is the newest non-drug alternative to years of steroid use, which can create long-term health effects including osteoporosis, cataracts and high blood pressure.

“Asthma is very common around here. There are not too many alternatives for people with asthma that medications aren’t controlling. A lot of these people end up on steroids and immune-suppressing drugs that have a lot of side effects and their quality of life is terrible,” he said.

“Last step in the chain”

Mosley said she hasn’t been hospitalized for an asthma flare-up and hasn’t had to miss work since completing the procedure. Though she still carries her rescue inhaler, she said she finds she doesn’t have to use it as frequently as she once did. Now she’s looking forward to her camping trip at Lake Whitney.

“I’m almost 23 years old and I’ve never been camping. As a kid I wasn’t allowed to do much because you never knew how my asthma was going to react,” Mosley said. “This is a celebration.”

The procedure is also available at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, which has treated 25 patients since 2011 and was the first hospital in north Texas and south Oklahoma to offer bronchial thermoplasty, said pulmonologist Dr. Gary Weinstein. The JPS Health Network is also reviewing the technique and equipment but does not currently offer the procedure, said Dr. Gary Floyd, executive vice president for medical affairs.

“For those who have the very worst asthma, when they have used all the appropriate preventative measures available, those people are candidates for this bronchial thermoplasty,” said Dr. Robert Rogers, an allergist at Fort Worth Allergy and Asthma Associates and JPS Health Network. “It’s the last step in the chain.”