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New FirstHealth Procedure Offers Relief to Asthma Sufferers

| Date Posted: 7/12/2013

PINEHURST – Shamika Braziel was a sports-loving teenager when she entered college with plans to play softball for Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University.

Michael Pritchett, D.O.

Michael Pritchett, D.O.

That changed when what she had thought was a bad case of bronchitis was diagnosed as asthma.

“It sprang up out of nowhere,” Braziel says. “I never had problems when I was younger.”

The active 18-year-old was soon dependant on a personal pharmacy of asthma medications, including the powerful steroid prednisone. College softball was out of the question since even the simple activities of walking to the front door or climbing stairs left her breathless or wheezing. She managed to stay in school until her third year, but eventually dropped out and moved to Aberdeen to be near her mother.

Earlier this year, Braziel found relief for her asthma in a new procedure offered by Michael Pritchett, D.O., a board certified pulmonologist with FirstHealth’s Chest Center of the Carolinas and Pinehurst Medical Clinic. According to Dr. Pritchett, bronchial thermoplasty has improved Braziel’s quality of life while offering her prospect that she could eventually be weaned from some of her asthma medications.

“She has done really well,” Dr. Pritchett says. “Our next goal is to get her off steroid therapy and some of her other medications.”

An inflammation in the airways of the lungs, asthma accounted for 1.75 million emergency room visits, 456,000 hospitalizations and 3,447 deaths in 2007. Most people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods while others have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath.

When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways tighten and the lining of the air passages swell, reducing the amount of air that can pass through. Bronchial thermoplasty is a therapy for patients whose asthma is so severe that they frequently require emergency room treatment or even hospitalization.

It is not a cure nor does it completely replace medications for long-term asthma control. However, Dr. Pritchett says, it can greatly improve the sufferer’s quality of life.

“It’s the first and only procedure or therapeutic intervention to treat asthma other than medication,” he says.

Bronchial thermoplasty attacks the asthma at its source by reducing the amount of smooth muscle causing the airway to constrict. In three sessions typically scheduled three weeks apart, a specially trained pulmonologist uses a small catheter to apply heat to the affected areas, “melting away” the smooth tissue build-up and decreasing the muscle’s ability to constrict the airways.

Each session lasts about an hour and focuses on a different part of the lungs to ensure every affected area is treated. Only patients 18 years and older whose asthma is not well controlled with medication are considered candidates for the procedure and then only after a thorough evaluation to ensure all other available therapies have been attempted.

Dr. Pritchett is one of only a few North Carolina pulmonologists who are trained in the procedure, which is done in an outpatient setting while the patient is consciously sedated or under general anesthesia. Patients tend to have a mild flare-up of their symptoms for a few days after the procedure, but their symptoms get “better and better” as more time passes.

“The results can be fairly quick,” Dr. Pritchett says. “Shamika was noticeably better even after the second treatment.”

Since her three sessions, which began on April 30 and ended on June 11, Braziel is “feeling great” and has used her rescue inhaler just a couple of times since the procedure instead of the usual five or six times a day. She had not heard about bronchial thermoplasty until Dr. Pritchett told her about the procedure, but she was anxious to try it.

“Dr. Pritchett was confident it was going to help me and, so far, it has,” she says. “It’s made a major difference. A lot of the things I do now, I didn’t think I would be able to do again because of my asthma.”

For more information on bronchial thermoplasty or FirstHealth’s Chest Center of the Carolinas, call (800) 213-3284.

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