(03/14/14) - A procedure that literally washes out the lungs is helping people breathe easier.
Imagine not being able to breathe without struggling, fearing each breath might be your last. That was the case for Robert Epperson. He became dependent on an oxygen tank to stay alive
"He was very sick. He was very short of breath," says Dr. Jihane Faress of Cleveland Clinic.
After suffering years from a mis-diagnosis, Faress and her colleagues discovered Epperson was actually suffering from a rare condition called pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, or PAP. The disease causes a protein called surfactant to build up in the air sacs of the lungs.
"Surfactant is a substance that we all need to keep our alveolar sac from closing off when we exhale, when we breathe out. So this, we need that. So, but too much of it is not a good thing," Faress says.
Doctors fitted Epperson with a vest that shook his lungs. Epperson had 30 liters of salt water pumped through each lung.
"So you put it in and you wash out. And you continue to wash because, when we talk about alveolar proteinosis, the stuff you get back it looks very thick, almost like mayonnaise, and so you get them very thick at the beginning then they get clearer and clearer as you wash out more lung," Faress said.
Epperson is breathing like a new man, "being able to just get up and do little things was tremendous for me."
There are two types of adult PAP. Epperson had the primary form, which is caused by an autoimmune response. A secondary form can be caused by exposure to toxins from the environment or associated with blood malignancy.
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