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El Camino Hospital and Me

Michael's Story: Sleep Apnea

For millions of Americans, sleep disorders are all too common. While some of us have trouble with the process of getting to sleep, still others wake up in the night and can't seem to fall back to sleep, no matter how many sheep they might count.

And, for those with untreated sleep apnea, getting a good night's sleep is virtually impossible. The ongoing pattern of repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night (apnea literally means an "absence of breathing") prevents individuals from getting the deep sleep essential for rest and good health.

Michael is just one of 18 million adults in the United States with sleep apnea. Although he was first diagnosed years ago, until recently, he was not able to get the medical help he needed to manage his condition appropriately.

"Sleep apnea left me feeling tired all the time," recalls Michael. "I would nod off at work at times because I was simply exhausted. Once, I actually fell asleep while driving." (Experts say car accidents are common with patients who suffer from sleep disorders.)

For Michael, receiving the diagnosis of sleep apnea didn't make the problem go away. Although his first doctor gave him a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine — one of many treatments for sleep apnea — to keep his airways open, the treatment didn't work.

Michael later learned that CPAP machines can only be used successfully if a patient is fully informed on how to use and maintain it. Michael received very little education on its use. And, as a result, his condition did not improve. He even had complications from misusing the machine.

"Michael initially went through a process that unfortunately is all too common with sleep apnea patients," explains his current doctor, Tony J. Masri, MD, medical director of the El Camino Hospital Sleep Disorders Program. "He had an overnight sleep study and was handed a CPAP machine, but no one took the time to explain it to him."

Dr. Masri estimates that half of all patients with sleep apnea who don't receive the proper education eventually give up on using their machines.

Michael actually saw several doctors, all unsuccessfully, for his sleep disorder before he was referred to Dr. Masri, whom he began seeing in March 2013.

"Dr. Masri was the first doctor who covered everything I needed to know in a single visit," says Michael. "He told me how to use my CPAP machine properly and quickly scheduled a follow-up visit so that he could check back to see how I was doing."

Today, Michael says he is sleeping much better now that he is receiving high quality care for his condition.

Dr. Masri says that the Sleep Disorders Program approaches sleep problems differently than many other medical practices or clinics. Care is extremely patient centered and involves many steps before, during and after treatment. Each patient receives an initial consultation and is then screened for all possible sleep disorders (not just sleep apnea).

Although overnight sleep studies are part of the overall diagnostic process, the staff also dedicates considerable time to educating the patient on the "bigger picture" of sleep, including how sleep disorders affect one's overall health. Once a patient is diagnosed, a physician sleep specialist, who is fellowship-trained in sleep medicine, works closely with the patient throughout treatment to ensure the treatment is going smoothly.

Michael says he is happy to be in the care of the El Camino Hospital Sleep Disorders Program and has been helping to spread the word to others about the importance of getting the best possible care for any and all sleep issues. 

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your story with us!