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A Medical Breakthrough for Lung Disease

This new procedure can be life changing for COPD patients

Jim Hogan playing golf.

Ethan Hill

A tiny valve implant helps Jim Hogan breathe more easily.

En español | Jim Hogan's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was getting worse, making it hard to finish his weekly golf games — or even walk down the driveway. Lucky for him, his golf partner, a doctor, came across a journal article about Zephyr, a lung valve that was generating medical buzz in Europe.

When the FDA clear-ed Zephyr for use in the U.S. in 2018, Hogan lobbied to get insurance coverage for the procedure, traveling to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, the first U.S. center to use the valve to treat severe emphysema. After a few hurdles — his insurance company considered it investigational, and he had to appeal — he had the valve implanted in April 2019.

Also on the Horizon: Nuvaira, a radio-frequency ablation that disrupts nerve signals and dilates the airways. In trials it reduced COPD flare-ups in patients.

It's a serious procedure, with a device the size of a pencil eraser inserted via a bronchoscope. The one-way valve blocks air from invading the damaged part of the lungs, where it can get trapped and hinder breathing.

"The instant I woke up from anesthesia, I felt the difference,” he says.

"It took 20 years to develop and gain approval for a treatment,” says Gerard J. Criner, M.D., director of the Temple Lung Center, where Hogan had his procedure. “It's less invasive than other treatments. It costs less. And it improves exercise function and quality of life.”