Friday, December 9, 2016 12:00 AM

Unique ‘heat blasts’ bring breathing relief to those with asthma

For years Terra Alexander, 34, has been a frequent visitor to the emergency room when it feels like an elephant’s sitting on her chest and her breathing comes in labored, Darth Vader-like wheezes. Bronchial thermoplasty changed that.

Fresno County asthma patients have 58% higher hospitalization rates and 52% more ER visits than those with asthma statewide.

Pulmonologist Vipul Jain performs Terra Alexander’s last bronchial thermoplasty treatment, reducing the thickened airway walls in the upper lobes of her lungs.
“I’m almost completely off the breathing machine,” she said after undergoing two out of the three required treatments. “My inhalers I’ve had to replace every two weeks for years. The last time I replaced this inhaler was over a month ago, and it’s still half full.”
In a region with the highest asthma rates in California, Community Regional Medical Center is the only hospital between Sacramento and Los Angeles equipped to provide bronchial thermoplasty. Two pulmonologists are trained to feed the thermoplasty device through patients’ mouths into their lungs to help deliver energy to the airway wall to reduce the amount of abnormal smooth muscle in the airway wall that is driving the symptoms of asthma. By reducing thickened muscle tissue, airways are opened. Studies show patients have 84% fewer emergency visits in the 12 months after this treatment and effects last for years.
UCSF Pulmonologist Vipul Jain, who helps manage Terra’s severe asthma, said after just two treatments her lung function test showed she had 7% more capacity than her best ever previous lung test.

“I don’t remember Terra having a single week in the last several years where she hasn’t had to use her nebulizer machine or a rescue inhaler,” said Dr. Jain, who is the medical director of Community Regional’s Chronic Lung Program.

Erin Kennedy reported this story. She can be reached at