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Surgeon uses robot to cure sleep apnea

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Sleep apnea is a condition that can cause a lot more problems than just pure exhaustion. As if that's not bad enough, this condition can spur all types of diseases and can even be deadly. Approximately 1 in 15 adults suffers from it. Now, a new state-of-the-art surgery, using a robot, is available in Houston to cure it.

We met up with Grethan Barnes from Katy, who suffered from it for 30 years! "I'd wake up and say, how can I be so tired? I just woke up, how could I be so tired. I truly got to the point where I thought - this is how I would die, that I would not wake up from one of those episodes!" exclaims Grethan.

That's why she was so excited when her doctor offered a new procedure using robotic arms. Surgeons at Memorial Herman are the first to offer it in our area. They use the DaVinci robot, to take them down the back of the throat.

"Before we had the robot, it was difficult to gain access, because there's not a lot of space back there! It's difficult to get your hands back there. With the robot, it allows us better access, precision, safety, better visualization for the tongue base," explains Dr. Michael Byrd, an ENT Surgeon at Memorial Hermann Southeast and also Assistant Professor at UT Health.

A large tongue base often causes sleep apnea, so can the uvula, soft palate, and tonsils. During the new procedure, surgeons remove part of the tongue base, to make room for air to get through. "We've seen a pretty dramatic degree of success of curing the sleep apnea," says Dr. Byrd.

Sleep apnea makes people, like Grethan, stop breathing dozens of times every night. Those pauses can last for up to twenty seconds at a time! That means someone with sleep apnea may not breathe for ten minutes out of every hour! "It can lead to other medical problems down the line, if untreated. Medical problems such as stroke, heart disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension. It's serious - not just you can't breathe at night - this is a serious problem," says Dr. Byrd.

Grethan relied on a C-PAP machine to keep her alive at night, which uses air pressure to keep the airways open. She found it to be loud and uncomfortable to sleep with. "I hated it, hated it every night."

She's a month out of surgery now, and doesn't have to use her C-PAP anymore. Recovery from surgery was tough though. "The first week, I'm good, thought it's not a big deal, then my tongue started waking up. I paced. That's all I could do, pace and cry," Grethan explains. She says she suffered about four days during recovery, but says she would do it all over again. "I feel more energetic, I wake up and am ready to go! Before, it was like pick up the ball and chain and drag it from one place to the other - I was exhausted! Now, I go to asleep, I feel like a princess when I wake up - it totally changed my life," says Grethan. Dr. Byrd is pleased with her dramatic recovery.

Men are actually more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, as are African Americans. It's also more common in people who are overweight. Dr. Byrd says losing weight can help relieve the symptoms for some people.

The first step is undergoing a sleep evaluation. For more information: https://www.memorialhermann.org/sleep/ or http://www.davincisurgery.com/.

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