New lung valve has COPD patients breathing easier

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Four million Americans suffer from some form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more commonly known as COPD. It's now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., though a new device may help patients live longer and breathe easier.

It's called the Intra-Bronchial Airway Valve (IBV), and it's inserted via a flexible tube with a camera at the end that helps guide the small, umbrella-shaped valve inside the airways of the lung. The device redirects air from unhealthy to healthy parts of the lung.  

"I can feel that my breathing has improved over the last four years," says  patient Charlene Kelly. Though she still has to schlep an oxygen tank around, she says breathing is actually easier these days.  

Kelly says prior to getting the IBV her emphysema prevented her from doing, well, almost anything really.  

"I didn't sleep well ... I'd wake up in the morning and I would be as tired as I was when I went to bed," Kelly says.   

Despite her discomfort, traditional surgery that removes damaged parts of the lungs was just too risky for her -- and the downtime too intense. 

"The recovery time for a lung surgery is weeks. The recovery time for a bronchoscopy is a day." says Dr. Kyle Hogarth, M.D., Director of Bronchoscopy and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago. "I definitely feel like we've helped some people have much better lives," 

And this new valve will last a very long time -- estimates say about 14 years.

"Ten years from now we'll go and replace them for her, maybe we'll have even better technology then. Oh heck, I hope by then I'm growing lungs; I'll just give her a new lung," says Dr. Hogarth. 

Risks associated with the new lung valve include pneumonia and irritation that causes coughing and excess mucus.

Doctors say the valve can be easily removed if patients experience these symptoms.

The new lung valve is entering into its final phases of trial in the U.S. and is already being used in Europe.