NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There's a new treatment for patients who suffer from sleep apnea, a serious condition that causes people to stop breathing while asleep.
It can strike anyone, but the most at-risk are older, overweight, and generally male.
CBS2 first reported about the battery powered nerve stimulator called Inspire when it was first approved. Now, a new study finds that it reduces sleep apnea in two-thirds of patients using it.
Patients like Peggy Siravo.
"I wasn't breathing," she recalls, telling CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez. "I wasn't getting the correct amount of oxygen. My thought process was gone."
Siravo says her memory got so bad, her family thought she had dementia. Exhausted, the 59-year-old could barely do her job as a nurse.
"I knew I was in trouble," she said.
Peggy had severe obstructive sleep apnea, where he throat muscles relaxed and blocked her airway, disrupting her sleep. On average, she stops breathing 53 times an hour.
That's nearly once a minute during the course of a night's sleep.
The most common treatment, a CPap machine, was cumbersome and didn't help much.
"That's when they introduced me to Inspire and saved my life," Siravo said.
Inspire is a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest which senses when breathing slows down, sending an electrical impulse to the nerve controlling the tongue. It then stimulates the tongue forward, keeping the airway open.
"This has been revolutionary," Dr. Maurits Boon from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital said. "It's been a game changer."
The Philadelphia-based Dr. Maurits is Siravo's doctor, and says she had given up before learning about the new device.
"She had memory issues, she was miserable," he said. "This is not a benign disease, it actually shortens people's lives."
A few months after having the Inspire device implanted, Peggy went to a sleep lab to see how it was working.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is a cure," Dr. Boon said.
A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than two-thirds of patients experienced less sleep apnea after getting the implant. Every night, Peggy says she turns on the implant before heading to bed.
"It saved my life," she said.
In clinical trials, the inspire device not only reduced sleep apnea, but there was little or no snoring in 85 percent of users.
The price is $20,000 plus surgical costs, but it may be covered by insurance in a case by case basis. That generally means that you have to have failed other, less expensive treatments such as the CPap machine in the past.
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