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Backus Offers Procedure to Improve COPD Patients’ Quality of Life

March 28, 2023

Pulmonologists at Backus Hospital are now offering a procedure for patients with severe COPD that can greatly improve their breathing and their quality of life.

Called Zephyr valves, the devices were approved in 2018 under the FDA’s breakthrough device status because of the need for new treatment options for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death worldwide. COPD can vary in severity, but for people with advanced disease every activity can leave them breathless.

The valves are the first less-invasive option for patients with one form of COPD: severe emphysema. These patients had few options before this treatment and often were waiting on lung transplant lists or oxygen-dependent with very poor quality of life.

Mark Godfrey, MD, an interventional pulmonologist with the Division of Thoracic Surgery within Hartford Healthcare’s Medical Group began offering the procedure at Hartford Hospital. He recently went to Backus Hospital to work with pulmonologists Atul Palkar, MD, and Ankit Gupta, MD.

The Backus patient, a female in her 80s, had multiple Zephyr valves inserted during the procedure and is recovering well, Dr. Palkar says.

Palkar says he and Gupta decided to begin offering Zephyr valves because they have a large COPD patient population. “We wanted to be able to offer them even more,” he says. They went to Temple University in Philadelphia for training last spring. Once they were back in Norwich, they needed to create the infrastructure needed for patients who have the procedure.

The valve procedure requires a patient to be in ICU for three days to watch for potential side effects, including a lung collapse. Regular follow ups after discharge continue for at least 45 days.

“Because it requires a lot of coordination between specialities, we took our time,” Dr. Palkar says. “We wanted to be thoughtful about how we did it.” They consulted with Dr. Godfrey at Hartford Hospital and used his program there to model the one they created at Backus.

The valves are a fantastic option for the right patient, says Godfrey, who has done the procedure on about a half-dozen patients. “These valves lead to better exercise capacity and less breathlessness with activity. This can really improve quality of life and doesn’t rule them out from other therapies, such as a transplant in the future.”

One of his patients, 66-year-old Ed Akerley of East Hampton, was living with severe emphysema for years when he learned about the Zephyr valves. Akerley had shortness of breath and would tire easily with normal daily activities, such as taking a shower or getting dressed.

“Trying to even walk up a flight of stairs was difficult. Since I had the procedure I have been 100 percent better,” he says.

Akerley says that prior to the procedure, he felt he didn’t have a lot of options.
He now is able to exercise for 30 minutes a day on a treadmill and is feeling much better.

“Three weeks after the surgery, my daughter was moving into an apartment. I helped load up the truck and was able to carry boxes up and down the stairs,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that before.”

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