South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday August 4, 2020
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February 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 7
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Ex-NFL Star’s Death Spurs Interest in Sleep Apnea Treatment

When actor Michael J. Fox announced he had Parkinson’s Disease, and Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong revealed he had testicular cancer, both worked to further research in the field, assist victims and to put a recognizable human face on their condition.

Chances are Reggie White, the former All-Pro defensive end for the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers could have done the same for sleep apnea. Certainly he would have made a fine spokesman. White, dubbed the "Minister of Defense" because of his strong religious faith and his fearsome play on the football team, knew he had a greater purpose in life, said Eagles head coach Mike Reid, who had also coached White on the Packers.

"I know he knew that; I know that’s how he felt," Reid said. "He was a great leader. When Reggie talked, everybody listened."

Sleep apnea has been listed as a potential contributory cause for White’s sudden, surprising death at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina on December 26. He was 43.

In the wake of his death, sleep disorder centers nationwide are showing an increase in referrals and self-referrals.

"I can’t tell you how many people we’ve had call since Reggie White died," says Dr. Glenn Singer, medical director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Broward General Medical Center, where he and his staff administer about 1,000 sleep evaluations annually. The North Broward Hospital District’s Weston Regional HealthPark, which also has a Sleep Disorder Center, does about 300 evaluations annually.

White comfortably fit the profile for sleep apnea, a fairly common condition that causes periods of interruptions during sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the interruptions may occur 20-60 times or more per hour during sleep, with snoring in between the interruptions. All snorers do not have sleep apnea, the NSF points out.

The prototype sleep apnea patient is the guy who’d love to kick back in his lounger with a beer and watch White play: 40 to 60-year-old overweight males with wide abdominal girth and thick necks.

"Those are my people and I am their leader," says Dr. Singer with a chuckle.

While the apnea episodes may seem to be little more than an annoyance, the condition may lead to a variety of other more-serious consequences. However, there is much to be done to assist apnea patients, Singer says, and centers such as the ones at Broward General and Weston Regional HealthPark can assist patients in what is both a potentially severe medical condition and a quality-of-life issue. Sleep-disordered breathing has been shown to have direct links to cardiovascular disease through hypertension, stroke, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. Persons with Type II diabetes, particularly those with the metabolic "Syndrome X," also are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

Additionally, apnea patients are significantly more likely to suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness and other sleep-deprivation problems.

"Persons with sleep apnea are certainly sleep deprived," Singer said. As a result, they possess a statistically greater likelihood of becoming involved in motor vehicle accidents. Patients with sleep apnea are also are more likely to fall asleep at work, in class or elsewhere where wakefulness is desired.

"I don’t know how many patients we’ve been able to save jobs for because we’ve been able to show they have apnea and aren’t just lazy," Singer said. "There are a lot of grateful people out there."

Individuals with sleep apnea may be unaware of their condition but are urged to seek assistance by their frustrated bed partners, who are also kept awake by the snoring and choking sounds.

"Sleep apnea is not silent; the snoring is obnoxious and certainly it behooves people to urge their bed partners to get evaluated," Singer says. "In mild cases, we can use interventions such as dental appliances, positional training and good old exercise. Stretching and all that is good, but real exercise really helps—exercise where the person gets out there and sweats."

Individuals affected with more serious cases can often be helped through continuous positive airway pressure, better known as CPAP. The CPAP machines, which provide positive air pressure delivered through a mask the user wears during sleep, take a little effort getting used to, but once the user adapts, the unit generally allows the user to enjoy safe, restful sleep.

"Does every snorer need a sleep study? No," Singer says. "But if there’s witnessed irregular breathing with gasping and excessive daytime sleepiness, it would behoove the person to get it checked out."

A sleep study and treatment costs less than other medical and surgical interventions later on, Singer said.

"It’s not all that expensive, all things considered," he said. "John Candy, the comedian, died in his sleep and I’m sure he died of (apnea)," Dr. Singer says. "In the wake of Reggie White’s death, I’d hope now there is enough awareness out there now."

Dr. Glenn Singer can be reached at (954) 522-7228.
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