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New Implant Device A Breakthrough In Sleep Apnea Treatment

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota sleep doctors consider a new implant a game-changer in the quest to get real rest.

There's now a smaller treatment option for sleep apnea that goes right inside your body.

Laurie Moline's restless nights started 10 years ago with symptoms that soon took a scary turn.

"At stop lights sometimes I would just put it in park and just close my eyes just because I could not keep them open," Moline said.

Moline would be so exhausted she switched to taking baths in the morning -- too tired to even stand in the shower. She'd keep her eyes closed walking the hallways at St. Cloud Hospital where she worked in health care.

"I finally went in and they did the test that I did have sleep apnea," Moline said.

Like so many with the disorder, she turned to a CPAP machine. But, as a stomach sleeper she struggled to ever get comfortable. So she gave up.

"I just didn't think there were any other options," she said.

It's the same story, Dr. Ron Hanson at St. Cloud Surgical Center often hears several times a day.

"It was evident that she needed some help," Hanson said.

Studies show CPAP is only successful in about half of the patients who use the machine. Still, the consequences for sleep apnea can be deadly.

"There's a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, diabetes, depression," Hanson said.

When we fall asleep our muscle state relaxes. With sleep apnea, that relaxation can cause the tongue to relax to the point it blocks a patients' airway.

"They stop breathing. They can't move air their brain senses that and it causes them to move in and out of a deep stage of sleep," Hanson said.

Now, Inspire Therapy is opening up that airway with a pacemaker-like implant. The device is attached to two leads. Delivering mild stimulation to the tongue to move it out of the way.

"It keeps that tongue tensed and pushed forward just enough so it keeps the airway from obstructing, but not so much that they'll sense it and wake up from it," Hanson said.

"Finally, I have something I can offer them that's highly effective and really been life changing for these patients," he added.

We watched as Hanson and his team put the implant in a 52-year-old man during an out-patient procedure that takes less than two hours. After surgery, the patient uses a small remote to turn the implant on a half hour before bedtime.

Another click shuts it off in the morning.

Lauire Moline noticed a difference the first night she activated hers.

"I jumped out of bed, I'm ready for the day and I'm like this is amazing and I'm like, 'oh it's 2 AM.' After four hours of sleep, I felt better than I'd ever felt before," Moline said.

It's been nearly a year and Moline is almost off her medication. Her family appreciates her better moods. She's also keeping her eyes open to drive and to walk through the hallways at work, no matter how crazy that might sound.

"It's just nice to go to bed and sleep and wake up and feel like a human being again," Moline said.

The implant can cost close to $40,000, but insurance often covers it. You can't get it if your CPAP machine works for you. The implant's battery has to be replaced every 10 years or so in another surgery.

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