Custom Stents Help People Breathe

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Patients with serious breathing disorders sometimes need stents to keep their airways open. Until now, these devices were made with a one-size-fits-all approach. (KFSN)

When breathing is hard, life is hard. Every single move becomes difficult. Patients with serious breathing disorders sometimes need stents to keep their airways open. Until now, these devices were made with a one-size-fits-all approach. But custom stents are helping some people breathe easier.

A rare condition known as GPA affected Dan Pyles' breathing and his ability to be an active grandparent.

"I really enjoy my grandkids, but I couldn't play with them. I couldn't do anything with them," Pyles told Ivanhoe.

Scar tissue built up around Pyles' airways, so getting a good breath was hard.

"It affects absolutely every aspect of what you do," detailed Pyles.

Pyles was one of the first patients to receive a brand new type of device. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic designed a custom stent to put inside Pyles' airway and keep it open. It's made from a 3D printer.

Tom Gildea, MD, a pulmonary medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic described, "With the use of CT scanning and 3D technology, I can design a stent specifically for the patient that I'm treating."

Standard stents come in a limited number of sizes and shapes. They're made for large airways and don't always fit well. The custom stents are designed to fit the exact size and shape of the patient's airway, big or small. When they're put in, patients find relief right away.

"Almost instantaneously. Patients immediately feel better with their breathing," said Dr. Gildea.

Pyles had a custom stent on his left side. It's allowed him to be more active.

"I get down and play with my grandkids on the floor now," said Pyles.

He can also breathe easier.

"It's hard to describe when you struggle for every breath you take, when you finally get a breath that isn't work, it's wow. It's great," described Pyles.

These stents can be used for a variety of serious breathing disorders, including those caused by a tumor, a mass or inflammation. The customized stents are not yet FDA approved. Clinical trials are expected to start soon. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have consent from the FDA to implant the stents on a "compassionate use" basis.

Pyles is planning on having a customized stent placed on his right side as well.

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