DANIEL ISLAND, SC (WCSC) -
Sleep Apnea is a common and dangerous disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it affects more than 18 million Americans.
It can cause serious heart issues and other medical and it kept Jim Courtney from spending nights with his wife.
"18-20 years I not only did not sleep in the same bed but I didn't even sleep in the same room because of this," said Daniel Island resident Jim Courtney. "I can even remember once thinking about sleeping in the bathroom, now in the bathtub."
But, not sleeping in the same bed as his wife was the least of the 79-year-old's concerns.
"In an hour I would stop breathing 46 times," said Courtney.
After a sleep study, doctors told him the danger he faced.
"He said, 'I'm putting you on oxygen. He said you could have a heart attack. You could have a stroke."
"Very frightening that he was going to die," said Jim's wife Kathleen. "You know this was his last breath."
But those fears were put to rest, thanks to a small device called Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation System.
"We implanted 6 people at MUSC. Nationwide, and in Europe, as part of the study, 126 people received that device," said Dr. M. Boyd Gillespie. "70% of the people were completely successful with the device."
Doctor of Otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, Dr. M. Boyd Gillespie said courtney was a prime candidate.
"It also addresses the underlying cause of Sleep Apnea which is laxity in the muscles that can collapse into the throat, where this can provide a nerve stimulation in those muscles, keeping the throat open," said Dr. Gillespie.
"As my lung expands, it send a signal to the device which is right here," said Courtney explain the implanted device. "Which, in turn, sends a signal to the nerve that controls my tongue and jolts it."
The small device, located just below his right shoulder, has changed his life.
"We can sleep in the same room now. I'm not beating him over the head with a pillow as I did many times," said Kathleen Courtney. "And, many times I even considered holding it over his head."
"This little device, it turns on my implant, has changed my life a lot," said Courtney. "I can sit down in a chair now and not fall asleep."
And without it?
"I could be dead," replied Courtney.
But instead, this 79-year-old says he's young again.
Dr. Gillespie says the device could be available by the end of 2014.