(CBS NEWS) – A treatment is offering hope for millions of patients with, a disorder that causes people to stop breathing when they’re asleep. An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, putting them at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and memory loss. Patients who are older, overweight and male are generally most at-risk, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.
“I wasn’t breathin’. I wasn’t getting the correct amount of oxygen. My thought process had gone,” said Peggy Siravo. Her memory got so bad, her family thought she had dementia. Exhausted, the 59-year-old could barely do her job as a nurse – and she knew something wasn’t right.
“I knew I was in trouble,” Siravo said.
Siravo has severe obstructive sleep apnea, where her throat muscles relax, blocking her airway and disrupting her sleep. On average, she stops breathing 53 times an hour, that’s nearly once every minute during a night’s sleep. She said on a night, she could be up four hours and sleep two.
She did not find relief from the CPAP machine, a common treatment that delivers constant pressurized air. She even needed oxygen on top of that.
“And then that didn’t work. That’s when they introduced me to Inspire and saved my life,” Siravo said.
“Inspire” is animplanted in the chest. It senses when breathing slows down and sends an electrical pulse to the tongue to stimulate it forward, keeping the airway open.
“This has been revolutionary. It’s been a game changer,” Dr. Maurits Boon said. He is Siravo’s doctor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
“She’d given up. And she had memory issues, she was miserable,” Boon said. “This is not a benign disease… it actually shortens people’s lives.”
A few months after having the Inspire device implanted, Siravo went to a sleep lab to see how it was working. They ran tests throughout the night. Early the next morning, Boon revealed the results.
“So before we activated the device, we have all sorts of problems… This is basically your brain saying, ‘I’m not breathing.’ … And after we activate the device it’s perfect,” Boon explained. “Look at your oxygen. Nice, stable, flat line, staying around 96-97 percent. So this is good as it gets.”
“Okay,” Siravo said.
“And as far as I’m concerned, this is a cure. This is awesome,” Boon said.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 68 percent of patients experienced less sleep apnea after getting the implant.
For years, all Siravo and her husband, David, wanted was a good night’s rest – and now they’re finally getting it. Every night, Siravo turns on the implant before heading to bed.
“What’s it like to sleep now?” Begnaud asked.
“Great. Turn myself on. I go to sleep,” Siravo said. “And then I get up. And I turn myself off. And I have a normal day like you and everybody else.”
“Doesn’t work for everybody. But man, it worked for you,” Begnaud said.
“It sure did. It saved my life,” Siravo said.
Inspire is not for everyone. It’s only for moderate to severe cases, and like any surgery, there is risk of infection. For Siravo, she said her memory is back to 100 percent. The device costs around $20,000 not including the surgery.