Lung Volume Reduction
Dorris Harris first realized she had emphysema when she suddenly lost her breath at work.
"I was sitting at my desk and I just couldn't breathe," recalled Harris. "I had stopped smoking that November. I was taken to the hospital and they diagnosed me with emphysema."
Harris continued to work as a Baltimore District Court supervisor until it became almost physically impossible for her to continue. "It was difficult for me to get up the steps at work and at my house," she said. It became increasingly hard for Harris to do her job, which required a good deal of walking.
Then she heard about the Lung Volume Reduction Surgery and the National Emphysema Treatment Trial (NETT) on a television newscast. "At the time, transplant wasn't an option I was ready for, so I did research on Lung Volume Reduction and decided it was for me," Harris said.
Before the Surgery
From the beginning, Harris said, "It seemed like it was meant for me to do this [NETT]." Since she lived in Baltimore, she called the Medical Center to inquire about the trial. Harris passed all the physical exams necessary to be eligible for the randomized trial.
All participants in the study were required to receive six to ten weeks of pulmonary rehabilitation prior to randomization. After rehabilitation, participants were randomly divided into two groups: those who were selected to receive LVRS in addition to medical therapy, and those who would continue receiving medical therapy only.
"I was fortunate," said Harris. "I was the second person in the state of Maryland to be selected for the surgery."
Those patients randomized to surgery were, at the same time, randomized into one of two surgical approaches. The first was the standard approach of opening through the chest (median sternotomy), where surgeons make an incision in the middle of the chest and open ribs.
The other, less invasive approach is thoracoscopy, a minimally invasive technique that involves making two or three small incisions (approximately one inch) in between the ribs. Once at the lung, the surgery is identical -- as much as 30 percent of the lung is removed and the lung is then resealed with a stapling device.
Harris was chosen for the standard approach, and she had the surgery on August 6.
Life after Surgery
After her surgery, Harris's life improved. "I think it was successful," said Harris. "I still feel better and I honestly believe the surgery had a lot to do with that."
Before the surgery, Harris couldn't get to church because she couldn't walk up the steps. "Now I go to church, I can make my bed, walk on level surface," she said. "I didn't ask for much, just to do the things I like to do, like shopping, cooking and driving." Now she can do all of those activities, but she especially enjoys food shopping. "I love going to the supermarket," remarked Harris. "I can stay for three hours at a time. I go up and down every aisle."
After the study, patients are followed for five years through visits, phone calls and letters. Harris was followed up with periodic visits for five years following the operation.
"I honestly believe that even after treatment you definitely have to keep exercising and taking your medication," stressed Harris. "Because of my emphysema, I exercise. If you sit and do nothing you go downhill fast. But if you exercise it just may prolong your life."