Updated: 01/17/2014 9:56 AM
Created: 01/16/2014 5:38 PM KAALtv.com
By: Kenny King
"I was breathing through a small five millimeter opening."
Imagine that - breathing through an opening the size of a cocktail straw. That was reality for Jill Pottenger-Moe who has subglottic stenosis, a condition that happens almost exclusively to women.
"It was labored breathing. Apparently people called me Darth Vader because it was (gasp, gasp)."
Just walking through this store would have made Jill profoundly short of breath.
"Once I bent down to pick up this pumpkin I would be wheezing and gasping for air, and there's no way I would be able to talk at the same time."
"Idiopathic subglottic stenosis. We use the word idiopathic because we don't know the cause. Subglottic Stenosis in and of itself is a scaring of the main wind pipe right below the vocal chords."
Dr. Eric Edell and his colleagues at Mayo clinic have studied this disease and developed a standardized treatment that helps keep the airway open. Here's how: due to the progressive scarring, the windpipe slowly narrows, severely restricting air flow. During an endoscopic surgery, doctors make three small incisions into the scar tissue.
This opens the airway and restores breathing.
Because the issue will likely recur, patients like Jill are on medication afterwards to treat potential causes of the scarring and inflammation.
"We put everyone on aggressive anti reflux measures."
Plus inhaled steroids and an antibiotic. And if her airway does start to restrict again, Jill can have the surgery again - as many times as she needs it.
"It's just so amazing to be able to breathe."
"I can breathe, I can talk, I can walk, I can exercise, it's changed my life."