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Diane is Breathing Better After Joining a Clinical Trial for COPD

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Her life is no longer limited by her COPD flare-ups

For many years, Diane B. was managing her stage 3 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with the help of medications. “I was doing great,” she says. 

In 2019, her symptoms started to take a turn for the worse. Diane, who was 55 at the time, began having a lot of COPD flare-ups, also called COPD exacerbations, in which her symptoms got worse. 

“I couldn’t take a deep breath in or out,” Diane says. “It’s scary. You feel like you’re going to die because you’re not getting any air.”

COPD includes the conditions chronic bronchitis and emphysema. There is no cure for COPD, but treatments can help people breathe easier and enjoy a higher quality of life. Despite following her treatment plan, Diane was having too many flare-ups — 11 in less than two months. She lived in constant fear of the next flare-up. 

“They were sudden, and you don’t know when they’re coming,” she says. 

Whenever Diane would have a flare-up, she would take her medicines and call her doctor’s office. These medicines usually helped, but it’s not unusual for people having a lot of COPD flare-ups to need treatment in the emergency room. That’s something Diane hoped to avoid. 

Diane was tired of living her life limited by her condition. She stayed home a lot and was afraid to use her downstairs laundry room alone. “I waited until my husband got home because one time coming up from the laundry room, I did have an exacerbation,” Diane says. “You don’t even know if you’re going to make it to your room to get to your nebulizer treatment.”

Innovative lung denervation treatment 

Diane’s COPD doctor at Temple Health is renowned pulmonologist Gerard Criner, MD, FACP, FACCP, the director of the Temple Lung Center

“I had an appointment with Dr. Criner, and I was telling him that since our last visit I was having exacerbations more often,” she recalls.

That’s when he told Diane about a new procedure, called targeted lung denervation (TLD), being performed at Temple as part of the AIRFLOW-3 clinical trial. The procedure is used along with other medical care to reduce moderate to severe COPD flare-ups.

TLD is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure. During TLD, doctors put a flexible tube, called a bronchoscope, through the mouth and down the throat and into the lungs. The treatment uses radiofrequency energy to deaden targeted nerves in the chest. In people with COPD, it is these overactive nerves that cause the airways to tighten and make excess mucus, which causes a flare-up.

The procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about 40 minutes. Patients can go home the same day.

When Diane learned that she qualified for enrollment in the AIRFLOW-3 clinical trial at Temple, her decision to join the trial was an easy one. 

“I couldn’t go through another exacerbation. It was wearing me down,” she says. “I was afraid to go out, and I was afraid to be alone. I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’”

“I feel great,” Diane says. “I go out by myself. I’m not afraid to stay home alone. It’s made such a difference.”

Finding relief 

Diane had her TLD procedure in February 2020, and is still doing well three years later in 2023. She hasn’t had as many COPD flare-ups since then. The few she has had were less severe and more manageable. 

As a result, Diane is no longer limited by frequent and sudden breathlessness.  

“I feel great,” Diane says. “I go out by myself. I’m not afraid to stay home alone. It’s made such a difference.”

Not only does she feel better, but her family has noticed the difference in her breathing too. 

“My son said to me, “I don’t see you using that inhaler anymore,” Diane says. 

Breathing her best with COPD

Diane, who quit smoking a few years ago, takes daily medication to help control her COPD. She also has rescue inhalers to use in case of a flare-up. But she hasn’t had to use those rescue inhalers very often since the TLD procedure. 

“I use my rescue inhaler only if needed,” she says. “Before, I was using it every four hours. And even when I was using my inhalers, they weren’t working. Since the AIRFLOW-3 trial, I feel wonderful.” 

The AIRFLOW-3 trial is ongoing, so the results of the procedure are still being monitored. “For me, it didn’t matter because it’s better than having the exacerbations,” she says. She continues to follow-up with study visits, where her providers can monitor her progress, and is doing well.

COPD runs in Diane’s family. “I lost my mom at 59 to COPD. My sister was 52,” she says. But she is determined to live and breathe her best despite having COPD. Her four children and her husband are a big reason for her motivation.

“They’re young and like to go out to the park and play,” Diane says of her kids. “We have to do things as a family. Before I couldn’t do it. Now I do everything.”

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