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Breathing on his own

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

By: Betsy Hansen

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Can you imagine breathing on your own after 12 years of dependence on a ventilator? That is exactly what recently happened to Dale – a Luxemburg, Wisconsin man who sustained severe spinal injuries during an accident years ago.


BayCare Clinic cardiothoracic patient


“Any kind of freedom is always something.” Dale said of the surgery that allowed him to breathe on his own. BayCare Clinic cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Alexander Roitstein and Aurora BayCare Medical Center pulmonologist Dr. Raul Mendoza worked in tandem to make this dream of Dale’s a reality.


Life before the surgery

“At first you hope they live,” said Dale’s wife of 44 years, Sandy, “Dale was never depressed after his accident. He accepted what happened to him and makes the best of every day.” Even with the best attitude, the ventilator he needed to breathe was inconvenient and loud.


“The ventilator is noisy. Every time I wanted to talk to him, I had to talk very loud or get very close to him.” Sandy said. When traveling anywhere, they had to carry extra supplies in case something happened.


A quote by a patient's wife


Sandy was browsing websites that were talking about new procedures for quadriplegics and came across the phrenic nerve stimulator. The couple began inquiring to different centers with help from pulmonologist Dr. Mendoza – but logistically it was cumbersome to travel. In the end, Dale was able to have the surgery at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay with Dr. Roitstein. This was the first surgery of its kind done in the state of Wisconsin.


“Because we have all the talent and all the specialties, we decided that if he wants to be patient number one, we could do it. He was up for the challenge,” Dr. Mendoza said.


Dale was quick to agree. “I thought it was a pretty good deal. It was a long time to get everything set up, but Sandy deserves a lot of the credit for me being in the condition after this time – and my nursing staff has been very good to me. They all deserve the credit.”


After the surgery

The surgery has improved his quality of life – the TV is quieter, the house itself is quieter; Dale is interacting with people more. Even his poker buddies enjoy it. “They like the peace and quiet,” Sandy added. “I notice Dale interacting with the grandchildren more. He will join in a group conversation, where he didn’t before. I think it will extend his life.”


Another perk: a welcomed return to the sensation of taste and smell. Because he is now able to breathe on his own, he has two senses back to make life a little sweeter.


Security and peace of mind has also been regained. “I’m not so attached. There is less chance of something going wrong like a hose being separated around a corner,” added Dale.



Phrenic nerve stimulator – how does it work?


A quote by Alexander Roitstein


“The diaphragm is the main muscle that helps us to breathe – it provides 80% of the power for inflation and deflation of the lungs,” explained Dr. Mendoza.


Two electrodes are placed under the skin and wiring connects them to the nerve. This stimulates the diaphragm to move. Externally, physicians connect leads to create electrical stimulation.


“This is not a departure from what I do on a day-to-day basis. This is purely an anatomical exercise. I put in pacemakers; this is a device that is very similar,” said Dr. Roitstein.


What is the future of this procedure for others? Dr. Roitstein offered, “As the technology becomes more democratized I think we will find out, but I think the future is pretty interesting and favorable.”


For more information, contact BayCare Clinic Cardiothoracic Surgery at 920-288-8320 or visit their webpage.


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