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Published:  January 5, 2012

St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital Offers Bronchial Thermoplasty Treating Severe Asthma Patients

St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital (St. Luke’s) is the first hospital in Houston to offer bronchial thermoplasty, an innovative procedure for the treatment of severe asthma. Affecting almost 25 million Americans, asthma is one of the top five chronic diseases globally, along with heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Patients treated with this minimally invasive, outpatient procedure have shown a decrease in severe asthma attacks and improved quality of life. 

On October 20, 2011, Robert Pakebusch became St. Luke’s first patient to undergo the bronchial thermoplasty. He has suffered with difficulty breathing for more than 15 years and was diagnosed with asthma two years ago. Since his diagnosis, Pakebusch’s pulmonologist has addressed the constant exacerbations in his lungs with ongoing steroid and antibiotic treatments.  “With asthma there is no getting better,” explains Pakebusch. “It can strike you at any time; you can come home at 5 o’clock and an hour later you feel horrible.”

The grandfather of five adds, “You are always conscious of your breathing problems, whether its noticing smoke or a simple perfume, anything can set it off.  With the recent wild fires, I stayed indoors for eight days.”

Living everyday with the inhibiting disease and after being hospitalized at St. Luke’s last year with double pneumonia and asthma exacerbations, Pakebusch thought there would be no relief from his constant battle when his pulmonologist, Clinton H. Doerr, MD, recommended he research a new treatment option, bronchial thermoplasty. “As I have been on steroids everyday for the last ten months, I was immediately interested because any improvement would be fantastic at this point,” said Pakebusch.

Bronchial thermoplasty is an outpatient procedure that treats severe asthma by going to the source. The lungs consist of multiple airway passages that are surrounded by airway smooth muscle. For patients with asthma, this smooth airway muscle is more susceptible to triggers and irritants that can cause it to constrict and reduce the amount of airflow through the lungs.  Bronchial thermoplasty uses radiofrequency waves to shrink the smooth muscle reducing the muscle’s ability to constrict, thereby creating a larger airway. This increased airflow results in a decreased frequency of asthma attacks.

“Not receiving enough oxygen to breath comfortably is extremely distressing. Bronchial thermoplasty will bring relief to patients who previously may not have had other treatment options,” said Lisa Kopas, MD, a pulmonologist at St. Luke’s. “As a leader in healthcare, St. Luke’s is pleased to be the first hospital in Houston to offer this innovative technology to our patients.”

Bronchial thermoplasty with the Alair® System is approved by the FDA for adults with severe asthma who are not well controlled on current medications, and is expected to complement asthma medications by providing long-lasting asthma control. The procedure typically takes less than an hour to complete, with the patient returning home the same day. To treat the entire lung, the complete bronchial thermoplasty procedure is performed in three separate outpatient treatment sessions, each treating a different area of the lung and scheduled approximately three weeks apart. 

Undergoing his first procedure of the bronchial thermoplasty with Dr. Kopas in late October, Pakesbusch experienced minor discomfort immediately following the procedure and returned to work two days later. “The first treatment was a piece of cake,” remembers Pakesbusch.  He completed his third and final procedure in mid-December.

“I’m looking forward to 2012 being a great year,” adds Pakesbusch. “I am feeling so much better!”

“As a pulmonologist who treats severe asthmatics I am excited to offer bronchial thermoplasty, a well tested, permanent treatment which improves quality of life. Not only has this bronchoscopic treatment been shown to decrease exacerbations and visits to the ER but has very few complications or side effects,” explains Dr. Kopas. 

In clinical studies, the benefits of the bronchial thermoplasty included reduced severe asthma attacks, decreased visits to the ER and hospital for respiratory symptoms, and less time lost from work or school due to asthma. 

For more information about bronchial thermoplasty, contact a St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital Pulmonary Coordinator at 832-355-8218 or 832-355-6343 or the Pulmonary Critical Care & Sleep PCCS at 713-255-4000.  You can also visit

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