New procedure offers hope for asthma sufferers

Tighe Johnson is on his third and final trip to Virginia Hospital Center all the way from Utah. He says it's his last hope to treat his life-long asthma.

His asthma started when he was 3-years-old and he’s been on medication his entire life.

But about a year and a half ago, his asthma became paralyzing to the point he could no longer continue his work in construction. His medication didn’t work and was stuck at home. He even went back to school to find a new career path.

Dr. David Duhamel says the smooth muscle that lines Johnson's breathing tube is part of what triggers his asthma.

“The inside of the breathing tube … allows it to close up,” he said. “So you're not able to breathe through that narrow area of obstruction.”

And the only way to get rid of the muscle is through a first-of-its kind three-stage asthma procedure called bronchial thermoplasty.

Duhamel uses a bronchoscope to gently heat up the lining inside each of Johnson's air passages.

"When I activate the device it releases energy into the breathing tube and that's what causes the smooth muscle to shrink and disappear," he says.

The procedure only treats one component of asthma, but Duhamel says it's enough to make a difference in the lives of severe sufferers.

“If I can reach out to those patients and bring their asthma down to something that's more manageable, that's a home run I think," he says.

According to a clinical study, in the year after bronchial thermoplasty, there was an 84 percent reduction in emergency room visits, days lost from work or school went down 66 percent and asthma attacks went down 32 percent.

It's important to note this is not a treatment for all of the 22 million people with asthma in the U.S. It is only FDA approved for those with severe, persistent asthma.

As for Johnson, he says the treatment is already working. And he's slowly getting his life back.

“Now it's like I have a second lease on life,” he says. “I'm able to do what I want again."