By Laurie Hochstetler
I have had asthma since I was 2 years old. Growing up, I vividly remember our family doctor making house calls to treat me. I was also diagnosed with multiple allergies, including pollen, mold and cats.
In the decades that followed, I had good and bad years with my asthma but I was able to manage it with medication. Soon after I turned 50 in 2011, I started experiencing asthma symptoms every day. After a particularly bad asthma flare, I was hospitalized for 10 days. I left feeling better – but still wheezing.
My pulmonologist, Lisa Kopas, MD, of Houston, prescribed prednisone, an oral corticosteroid, and I started using a nebulizer with liquid albuterol every four hours. Two years later, we switched to Xolair injections, which treats allergic asthma. Once every month, I would drive 350 miles from my home in McAllen, Texas to Houston to receive the injections. However, my asthma did not improve.
Dr. Kopas suggested I was a good candidate for Bronchial Thermoplasty. After researching the procedure and talking with Dr. Kopas, I decided I wanted to do it – but it took a very long time for my insurance company to approve it.
I scheduled the first of three procedures for January 2015 at Methodist Hospital in Houston.
The first procedure focused on the lower left part of my lungs and the second addressed the lower right section. I spent three days in the hospital under observation after the first procedure because pulmonary function tests revealed my breathing was not back to normal. The second procedure went more smoothly. Both times, I was back at work in a week, but I didn’t notice any difference in my asthma; I continued to need my nebulizer.
The third and final procedure was on both upper sections of the lungs. This procedure was the most difficult – my pulmonary function dropped nearly 50 percent and I spent nine days in the hospital undergoing breathing treatments. Gradually, my breathing improved. A week after my release from the hospital, I was wheeze-free. It had been many years since I could say that!
Bronchial Thermoplasty has given me a new lease on life. Prior to the procedure, I would get out of breath just walking around my house. Now I walk up stairs easily. I can walk a mile outside and feel no shortness of breath. I still take asthma and allergy medications, but they are much more effective now.
This is an amazing treatment for people with severe asthma. It gives hope to so many people like me.
By Laurie Hochstetler
Reviewed by Michael Mellon, MD
What Is Bronchial Thermoplasty?
An outpatient procedure for certain patients with severe, difficult-to-control asthma, Bronchial Thermoplasty involves inserting a long, slender tube called a bronchoscope into the lungs and the surrounding airways to heat and reduce muscle tissue. The procedure decreases the ability of the airways to constrict, allowing more air to pass.
Bronchial Thermoplasty is performed in three outpatient visits 3-4 weeks apart, with each procedure targeting a different section of the lungs. Hospitalization after the procedure only occurs if pulmonary function is very low or there’s an adverse outcome.
Allergy & Asthma Network and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) urge health insurance providers to offer coverage for Bronchial Thermoplasty for people with severe asthma.
Learn more about the procedure and download a letter on its benefits to send to your health insurance company: AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org/education/asthma/treatment-and-medications/bronchial-thermoplasty.