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How a unique device is helping 17-year-old Will fight sleep apnea

Posted: 11:53 PM, Nov 22, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-23 04:54:55-05

CINCINNATI -- Sleeping hasn't always been easy for 17-year-old Will Downs. Like the majority of people with Down syndrome, he experiences obstructive sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that robbed him of restful nights for years. 

When Downs tried to sleep, his tongue would fall back in his mouth and restrict his breathing. This could sometimes happen up to 80 times an hour, according to his mother, Dawn Downs. Using a ventilator didn't help. 

"It was a battle and horrible," she said Thursday. "It's been a long journey."

Fortunately for the Downs family, it's been a journey toward solutions. 

Cincinnati Children's Hospital identified Will Downs as an ideal candidate to test a device called the Inspire system: A small, pacemaker-like implant that stimulates the patient's airways during sleep. 

Inspire had already been approved for adults over 22, but Downs was among the first children to try it. He uses a remote to turn it on every night before bed, and the stimulator prevents his tongue from blocking his airway while he sleeps. 

He hasn't snored since he began to use it, he said. According to his mother, he's also become more energetic and improved his running time in the Special Olympics.

Dr. Sally Shott, who works with the family at Children's, said the success of Downs' experiment could have implications for many other children.

"I've been in practice 32 years, and sleep apnea is difficult to treat," she said. "This has got me very excited."

Anyone interested in learning more about Inspire and potentially participating in a study of its effectiveness in children can learn more by calling the Children's Upper Airway Center at 513-636-3702.