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New Procedure Helps Asthma Victims Breathe Easy

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CBS Minnesota (con't)

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For decades, the only way to treat asthma has been with drugs. And even those, sometimes, aren’t enough to treat severe asthma.

A new break-through procedure is providing hope as a Twin Cities hospital was one of only a few centers in the country to conduct trial surgeries.

“I couldn’t be in a house when someone was painting, or even be in the neighborhood,” Julie Magnusson said. “Cutting the grass would trigger an asthma attack.”

She couldn’t even stand in an elevator next to someone with strong cologne without it bringing on an attack.

“Just think of yourself with a really bad cold, and you can hardly breathe — that’s how a person with asthma is, all the time,” she said.

Multiple steroids used to control asthma, and rescue inhalers only provided limited aid for Magnusson — with no relief. She’d often appear in the emergency room.

During Magnusson’s toughest years, Health Partners physician and researcher Dr. Charlene McEvoy oversaw Magnusson.

Even McEvoy felt her patient could be running out of options, likening her pain to the feeling of breathing through a straw all the time.

“The air goes into the bronchial tubes, and then it goes into these little alveoli, these little air sacks,” McEvoy said.

When McEvoy learned of a new procedure that might provide relief, and severely lessen a patient’s dependency on drugs, she immediately thought of Magnusson.

It’s called bronchial thermoplasty, and using what’s called a bronchoscope, doctors treat the affected area.

“We go into the area, and go as far as we can, where we see the airways get fairly narrow, and out comes this catheter,” McEvoy said.

Heat is then applied to the airways and causes the inflamed smooth muscle to shrink.

In 2006, at age 45, Magnusson underwent a series of surgeries at Regions Hospital in St. Paul — one of only a dozen centers in the country offering trial procedures.

Magnusson says she noticed improvement right away.

“I would go by somebody, or see something that would normally trigger a reaction,” she said. “I wasn’t having it.”

Within 6 months, instead of carrying a bag full of drugs, she carries one rescue inhaler — just in case.

She says she has yet to use it.

“To live each day asthma-free, is wonderful,” she said. “I can breathe, and it’s nice to be able to breathe.”

This surgery is expensive, costing around $20,000. Doctors say right now, only some insurers will help cover costs.

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