(12/30/13) - A new machine is helping people with ALS, known to most of us as
Lou Gehrig's Disease, breathe easier. ALS attacks the nerve cells in the brain,
robbing people of their ability to move, and that includes breathing.
Mary Pat Murray has lived with ALS for more than four years. Checkups are not just routine for her, they can be life-saving, "today, I am really clogged up, which is why my voice is all kind of whacky."
Traditionally, patients like Mary would use a Bi-Pap machine to help them breathe. The Bi-Pap is a mask, tethered to a ventilator. It forces air into the lungs. But Mary is the first ALS patient at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to be implanted with a Diaphragmatic Pacing System - or DPS.
Mary says it feels like it is doing what is supposed to, helping strengthen her muscles, "it feels like a really hard hiccup at first and then eventually you get used to it."
The external device sends electrical signals to the nerve that controls the diaphragm, replacing signals normally sent by the brain that tell it to expand and contract.
"All she needs to do when she is ready at night is to turn that on and it'll begin to, help to contract the diaphragm as she's breathing," says Dr. Stephen Kolb.
The DPS conditions the muscle while patients sleep, says Kolb, "this gives us another tool in our tool belt where we can maybe engage the motor-neurons in the diaphragm; maybe allow the diaphragm to maintain strength longer in ALS, and improve quality of life and life span, so it's very exciting."
In just six months, Mary says there is a big difference, "I can carry on a conversation. I can eat. I can drink."
Thirty-thousand Americans are living with ALS. Next year, the device will be part of a national study to determine if the treatment actually helps ALS patients live longer, in addition to helping them breathe easier.
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