Magnets offer hope for people with sleep apnea

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Friday, February 17, 2017
Magnets offer hope for people with sleep apnea
A first-of-its-kind neck implant is designed to keep airways open to fight sleep apnea.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For most of us, eight hours of sleep is rejuvenating. For others, it can be torture.

"I would wake up multiple times a night, throwing up. I hadn't been breathing for over a minute. And you wake up like that I don't even know how many times," remembers J.J. Standing.

Standing suffers from obstructive sleep apnea. It's a condition so severe, he says it left him like a walking zombie during the day. It's typically triggered when muscles that keep your air passages open at night over-relax and collapse.

"When he has that obstruction during sleep, the lungs and brain are not getting the oxygen they need, and it triggers him to wake up," explains Dr. Jolie Chang, a surgeon and assistant professor of Otolaryngology at UCSF.

Standing first tried a pressurized air mask, known as the CPAP, but like a significant number of patients, couldn't sleep with it on. Then, in a first-of-its-kind neck surgery at UCSF, Dr. Chang implanted him with an experimental device. It's designed to keep his airway open, not with tubes or sutures but with a magnet.

"A small incision is made and the magnet is placed under the skin and secured to the bone with a couple of stitches," says Chang.

Then at night, Standing puts on a collar, containing a second magnet. The attraction pulls the implanted magnet forward, pulling open his airway at the same time. The device, known as the Magnap, is the brain child of Dr. Mike Harrison.

Harrison says he first used the magnet concept on children with sunken chests to pull the bones forward.

"And I was thinking what else could we do with magnets to pull out that would be useful," Harrison remembers.

The Magnap is now in clinical trial at UCSF. Researchers say the only significant side effect is a temporary soreness when swallowing.

"It's saving my life. I'm lucky to be able to say I'm the first one," says a grateful Standing.

Standing does wear a special dog tag, warning doctors and emergency responders that he can't be placed in an MRI because of the magnet.

Written and produced by Tim Didion