Rich Heebner started smoking at age 13, and over the next six decades, he barely stopped. “I smoked cigarettes, cigars and even pipes,” he says. But two years ago, a puff of a cigar sounded a wakeup call.
“It got so bad I could hardly breathe; I emptied my rescue inhaler” says Heebner, 80, of Worcester, who has severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heebner spent five days in the hospital, and that, he says, “scared me out of smoking for good.”
After leaving the hospital, Heebner was referred to CritAcuity Medical Group. There, he learned that he was a candidate for a newer treatment for severe COPD called bronchial lung volume reduction (BLVR).
Heebner, who remained smoke-free, underwent pulmonary rehabilitation to strengthen his lungs for the procedure. Then, in September 2022, he had BLVR treatment at Grand View Health. During the minimally invasive procedure, Heebner had four tiny, one-way valves implanted into the airways leading to his lungs.
The valves stop air from entering diseased portions of the lung and allow air that’s trapped in those areas to escape. BLVR can lead to improved lung function, easier breathing, and better exercise tolerance. “Immediately after the procedure, I could breathe better,” Heebner says. He also could walk more than 1000 feet without oxygen.
A pulmonary function test confirmed that the BLVR procedure improved Heebner’s breathing. His FEV1—the amount of air he can blow out in the first second—showed an improvement. He also had less airway obstruction and less air trapped in his lungs.
Overall, Heebner says his three-day hospital stay couldn’t have gone better. “I’ve been to five hospitals in the past four years for various things, and I’d rate Grand View at the top. The nurses were nice. The food was excellent. The hospital was clean and quiet.”
One month after the procedure, Heebner went on a weeklong trip to Peru. “It was hot and humid, but I never had a problem breathing, and I haven’t used my rescue inhaler since I had BLVR,” he says. “It is fascinating that this procedure could do all this for me.”
Interventional pulmonologist Nina Maouelainin, DO, with CritAcuity Medical Group, performs the BLVR procedure locally at Grand View Health. Learn more about BLVR. Visit GVH.org/Breathe.