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BLVR Was a Game-Changer for Baseball Umpire John S.

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Just a few years ago, emphysema nearly sidelined John

For more than 40 years, John S. has umpired baseball games all over Southeastern Pennsylvania. At 77, the Telford, Pennsylvania, resident shows no signs of calling it quits. After all, a national umpire shortage is affecting youth sports, and the players need him.

“If you don’t have an umpire, kids can’t have a ballgame,” he says.

John, who ran track and played soccer in his youth and in college, never played organized baseball. He got his start 43 years ago, when he volunteered to umpire one of his son’s Little League games. At the time, John sold insurance and often worked behind a desk. He figured umpiring would be good exercise.

“And I enjoy being around the kids,” John says.

John likes to joke around with the players, both young and old alike. But his emphysema is no laughing matter. Just a few years ago, it nearly sidelined John from the game he has enjoyed all these years. 

John didn’t know what was causing his shortness of breath at first, even as it began to limit his activities. He found himself umpiring fewer games than in the past — and with greater difficulty. 

“I just passed it off as getting out of shape and older,” he says. 

In 2014, John caught a cold that turned into a bad lung infection. His doctor suspected something more serious might be going on. He referred John to a pulmonologist at his local hospital, who confirmed that John had emphysema, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

John began taking medications to help him manage the condition. He also quit smoking and enrolled in a program of pulmonary rehabilitation that combined lung education with exercise.

Those treatments helped. But over time, John’s breathing continued to worsen. Climbing stairs left him breathless. He could still umpire baseball games, but his symptoms made it difficult. 

“I had trouble keeping up and moving from one part of the field to another part of the field, like from first to third base when I was working with a two-man team,” John says.

Seeking a better quality of life from the experts at Temple 

John couldn’t help but wonder if more could be done for his emphysema. 

He’d heard about the Temple Lung Center, an internationally renowned COPD research and treatment center, and the work being done there by experts like Gerard J. Criner, MD, FACP, FACCP and his team. John’s doctor told him about a groundbreaking, minimally invasive treatment for emphysema pioneered at Temple, called bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR)

Temple was the first medical center in the nation to perform BLVR, a game-changing procedure that can help certain patients breathe better and enjoy a higher quality of life.

With BLVR, doctors use a bronchoscope (a flexible tube with a small camera at the end) to place tiny valves into hyperinflated lung tissue. Hyperinflation is what happens when air is trapped in the lungs. This makes it hard for people with emphysema to breathe — it’s difficult to get the next breath into the lungs when you can’t  properly expel the air you’ve already inhaled. BLVR’s one-way valves block off diseased lung areas, allowing the healthier areas to expand more fully and take in extra air.

In 2019, John met with physicians at Temple Health – Ft. Washington for an initial evaluation. The best candidates for the procedure include people who:

  • Have advanced emphysema with a lot of trapped air in the lungs
  • Have no history of major heart conditions or lung surgeries
  • Have not smoked for at least four months 

Doctors determined BLVR might be able to help, so John met with Dr. Criner at the main Temple Health campus. There, Dr. Criner took the time to discuss the procedure, explaining how it works and what John could expect. John also underwent a series of tests, including heart and lung tests, to confirm that he was a good candidate for BLVR.

In 2020, John underwent his first BLVR procedure. In some cases, implanted valves may need to be repositioned for a better fit, which was the case for John.  In April 2021, John completed his repositioning procedure. The saying that the third time’s the charm seemed to be true in this case — because John felt his breathing improve almost immediately. 

In fact, the healthy portions of John’s lungs now have about 50% more room to breathe — expanding his lung capacity and offering immediate relief.

“The valves are working excellently,” he reports. “It’s cut down on my breathlessness considerably.”

After the successful procedure, John stayed in the hospital for five days while the Temple team monitored him for complications.

‘They made me better’

BLVR is not a cure for emphysema, but it can improve lung function — and quality of life. John now has less shortness of breath. This has made it easier for him to perform daily activities, like using stairs.

What’s more, John is able to umpire baseball games more easily and more often.

John returned to the baseball diamond less than a month following BLVR, and he was able to umpire nine ball games in a row. 

“I could not do that before the procedure,” he says.  

John is grateful for the high-quality, compassionate care he received from the experts at the Temple Lung Center, who are among the most respected and skilled in the region. 
“As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Criner is top-notch, and so are his staff and the nurses on the floor,” John says. 

“They made me physically better,” he says. “I can’t say enough good words about [them].”

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