DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Getting a good night’s rest can sometimes be elusive. It’s a struggle Emily Zilleox has faced since high school.
“By the time I was 17, I realized, ‘OK, this is kind of an issue,’” she recalled.
Zilleox was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, a medical condition that interrupts your sleep cycle.
“While you're sleeping, the inside of your throat closes on itself,” said Dr. Sanjay Athavale, a medical and surgical ear, nose and throat doctor, who treated Zilleox.
Zilleox tried everything from tonsil and throat tissue surgery to using a nighttime breathing apparatus called a CPAP.
“I just kind of felt like I was going to be living with this for the rest of my life and I was just going to be tired all the time, and I wasn't going to be able to live like everyone else," she said.
However, Dr. Athavale found success with Inspire, an implant approved by the FDA that first came to prominence in Europe a decade ago, but it is now starting to gain traction here in the U.S.
“There's a sensor that we put on the lung that meets up with a generator, that meets up with a nerve stimulator,” Dr. Athavale said. “And so, the sensor on the lung says, ‘OK, he's breathing,’ and then, the nerve stimulator opens up the inside of the throat at the same time.”
It’s a medical innovation covered by most insurance, which could potentially impact millions.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, about 22 million people in the country experience sleep apnea. About 80 percent of them are undiagnosed. If left undiagnosed, it can lead to other health issues, like high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, strokes and even depression.
Last year, Zilleox decided to go for Inspire.
“I remember the day that I got my surgery: September 18, 2020. It's my ‘sleep-a-versary,'” she said with a laugh.
Before the implant, sleep apnea caused Zilleox's throat to close 35 times an hour while she slept. After the implant, it’s down to two an hour.
“I mean, she probably sleeps better than I do at this point,” Dr. Athavale said.
It’s a difference that Zilleox said she noticed.
“I have more energy to do things. I'm out and about with friends and my family and I love it,” she said. “I feel like I’m able to be my true self and be able to take care of myself 100 percent.”
She hopes it means she has finally put sleep apnea to rest.