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Sleep Apnea Diagnosis Takes Mom by Surprise

Louise Travis with her son, Stan

Louise Travis with her son, Stan

For years, Louise Travis, 72, of Hatboro, says she slept with “one ear open.” Her son, Stan, 51, had experienced a traumatic brain injury as a result of a near-fatal car crash in 1986, and although he’d made remarkable progress over the years, he still suffered from seizures, particularly in the early morning hours. So Louise would always sleep nearby, ready to assist him at a moment’s notice. She knew Stan snored, sometimes loudly, but she found the racket comforting. “It actually helped me get to sleep,” she says.

Stan’s father, Stanley Travis, DO, a Family Medicine physician, thought differently. During a vacation in 2005, when the family shared adjoining rooms, Dr. Travis realized that Stan’s snoring might be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when air can’t flow easily through the nose and mouth, causing multiple brief interruptions of sleep. Listening closely, he realized that Louise was snoring, too.

“I would have bet the ranch that I didn’t have sleep apnea,” Louise says. Nevertheless, she made appointments for both herself and Stan at one of Abington Health’s Sleep Disorders Centers, where they underwent sleep studies on the same night.

sleep apneaThe results revealed that Stan had stopped breathing, on average, about 16 times per hour, which qualified as moderate sleep apnea. Louise wasn’t surprised. But she was shocked to learn that she had stopped breathing nearly 58 times per hour. “It blew me away to realize that I had more severe apnea than my son,” she says.

Fortunately, the solution was simple and effective. Both Louise and Stan were given continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which blow a gentle stream of air through a small mask worn over the nose. The mild pressure helps keep the airway open, and a memory chip in the machine monitors and records the pattern of use.

Louise noticed immediate changes in Stan. “Right off the bat, his snoring decreased,” she says. Over time, he also experienced fewer nighttime seizures, which she attributes to better sleep, as well as medication changes.

Her own sleep also improved. “I started waking up more refreshed, and I had more energy during the day,” she says. Today, mother and son continue to visit the Sleep Center for annual check-ins where a sleep physician analyzes the data from their CPAP memory chips to make sure all is well. The follow-up appointments have helped Louise and Stan make useful tweaks to their CPAP machines, such as getting a more comfortable mask or adjusting the air pressure.

Once a sleep study skeptic, Louise now encourages others to get tested. “The study itself is a piece of cake and well worth the time,” she says. “I’m so much better able to handle things during the day now that I’m sleeping better.”

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