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Inspire Journey, Part 1: Meet Our Patients

Innovative technology combats obstructive sleep apnea

Three of our early Inspire patients, Brian, Ron and Terri, share their journey to better sleepBrian Jackson, 46, is an information technology specialist who enjoys hitting the gym.

Ron Hofmann, 70, a retired executive, spends time walking his four 100+-pound dogs, including one he is training as a children's therapy animal.

Terri Beard, 56, works part-time as the birth registrar at a local hospital and loves nothing more than caring for her two young granddaughters.

These unique individuals have one significant challenge in common. All suffer from obstructive sleep apnea that affects their quality of life – as well as that of their spouses and families – and prevents them from feeling their best as they pursue their responsibilities and interests.

After struggling for years to sleep soundly, each discovered a path that led to The University of Kansas Health System, where sleep medicine experts – including otolaryngologist Chris Larsen, MD, and neurologist Suzanne Stevens, MD – recommended the revolutionary Inspire device. The implanted technology delivers mild stimulation to keep the airway open during sleep, reducing the health risks and promoting quality rest. Here, we'll explore these patients' journeys and discover how Inspire is improving their health through the benefits of a good night's sleep.

How long have you struggled with sleep apnea, and how did it negatively affect your life?

Brian: For five years or longer, I've slept badly. I never slept through the night and often woke up choking or gagging. I always felt fatigued. I wanted to spend time at the gym, but didn't have the energy, even though starting my work shift at 5:30 a.m. left me plenty of time later in the afternoon. Instead, I took naps on the couch every day. I couldn't concentrate on anything, and my blood pressure was high.

Ron: I've dealt with this for more than eight years. I believe it's responsible for my deteriorating memory. I thought sleeping poorly and being forgetful were related to the stress of my job, but now I've retired, and it didn't bring any improvement. I'd lose my gloves. I'd lose my keys. I would drive to a nearby grocery store and suddenly realize I'd driven several miles past it. It's not dementia, my doctors tell me, but an inability to concentrate.

Terri: I've been exhausted for many years. I wake up feeling like I haven't slept. I don't know any more what it feels like to have a restful night's sleep. I have a lot of good years ahead of me and want to be able to enjoy my family, especially my 7- and 3-year-old granddaughters. I want to be able to keep up with them better.

What solutions had you tried before discovering Inspire? Did they bring about improvements?

Brian: My doctor prescribed testosterone shots at first, but that didn't seem to make any difference. He ordered a home sleep test, and the next thing I knew, there was a CPAP machine in a box on my doorstep. I guess I failed that test. I was supposed to use the machine for 60 days, but in less than two weeks, I knew that wasn't something that was going to work for me. The mask was really uncomfortable and difficult to keep on. I set the machine beside the bed to collect dust.

Ron: I must have at least 12 different masks at home, and not one of them worked well. Those masks were connected to an alarm system, and it seemed like every night I'd pull a mask off at 2 a.m. and the alarm would fire. You can imagine my wife did not care too much for that. I'd tried dental appliances, too.  We really had had enough, and we didn't think we had any options left.

Terri: I've tried so many machines, masks and nosepieces, but never had lasting results. They are such a hassle to wear. I was always pulling them off, and they're so uncomfortable. A few years ago, I had UPPP surgery, where excessive tissue from my throat is removed to widen the airway. That didn't help either. I just could not remain asleep.

What were your thoughts when you heard about Inspire?

Brian: I was ready to try anything. I just wanted to sleep well like anyone else. I wanted to start waking up feeling like I'd slept.

Ron: I felt so hopeful. I hope it will stop my memory degradation and maybe even improve my memory. I want to get up feeling rested and start my day without worrying about what I'm going to forget.

Terri: My daughter, Stephanie, is a nurse in Dr. Larsen's office. She told me about Inspire in a text that said, "Mom, you really need to look into this." I thought, "how cool, something new that might finally work!" I got information about Inspire and made an appointment immediately.

Tell us about meeting our physicians.

Brian: Dr. Larsen introduced Inspire to me along with a few other options. I appreciated that he didn't push it, but provided a great education to help me decide on the approach that felt right.

Ron: I had messed with masks and machines for six years. Then I did nothing for two years. I didn't think there was anything left. So it felt fantastic to work with Dr. Larsen to pursue a new option.

Please describe your experience with the implantation process.

Brian: It did hurt for a few days and caused some anxiety. When I turned my head or stretched, I could feel the incisions and some pain. If I turn my neck just so, I can feel it, and there is some sensation when shaving. I became less aware of the device after several weeks of getting used to it.

Ron: I healed fairly quickly, but did have a few side effects. I had a sore throat and some ear discomfort, and I could feel several swollen, lumpy areas in my neck that reduced with time. The device itself didn't cause pain, but I could sometimes feel it, which was a little strange. This only lasted a few days.

Terri: I must admit the surgery was more difficult than I expected. Even though I'd seen pictures, the device was bigger than I had in mind. I still feel some twinges or mild pain if I roll over on the device. I'm told this will become less noticeable in time. The team has been so supportive through this adjustment. I just love that. It is an awesome feeling to know that so many people are here to help me, that they're so committed to doing something new. I expect this to be life changing.

Following a 30-day healing period after the implant procedure, our patients will return to have their Inspire devices activated and to learn how to use the handheld remote to control them.

Read part 2 of our series to continue this journey with Brian, Ron and Terri.