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Home > Services > Pulmonary & Respiratory Care > Breathing Easier With Emphysema

Breathing Easier With Emphysema

It’s like taking in a breath and exhaling through a straw. Before you finish, you have the urge to breathe again.
Unable to empty your lungs, you take shallow, unproductive breaths. Filling your lungs takes priority over everything else.

That was daily life for Brenda Wilson. Sidelined with severe emphysema, the Bristol, Va., woman struggled with everyday tasks like dressing, bathing and walking even short distances. Conventional therapies no longer provided relief. So her pulmonologist referred her to UVA, a leading treatment center for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Help From UVA’s Experts

While Brenda’s prognosis seemed poor, UVA’s expert team discovered that she could benefit from lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS), an innovative procedure that removes up to 30 percent of the lung tissue most damaged by emphysema.

The results were dramatic. Within a week of her surgery, Brenda no longer needed supplemental oxygen.
Once too breathless to do housework, she can now walk a mile.

“I can’t describe how wonderful it is to be able to breathe on my own again,” she says. “It feels so good to take a really deep breath and let it out. I hadn’t been able to do that in years.”

Surgery Eases Effects of Emphysema

Though it seems unusual, smaller lungs can actually help some people with advanced emphysema breathe easier. Surgery allows the lungs to function better and helps the breathing muscles return to a more natural position.

How the Surgery Works

During LVRS, surgeons remove the damaged upper lobes of the lungs. This is done by making an incision in the breastbone, or by performing a video-assisted procedure, which is less invasive.

Is This Surgery Right for You?

Not all people with emphysema are candidates for LVRS. It’s only offered to patients who are likely to benefit from it, with the lowest risk of complications.

An ideal candidate include patients who:

  • Have stopped smoking and have disabling emphysema
  • Are able to participate in a rehabilitation program before and after surgery
  • Don’t have significant heart disease, morbid obesity or use a respirator
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