Release Date: 09/09/2016
Eden Weinmann hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in 30 years. Scoliosis arcs his spine into a dramatic 103-degree curve, making it difficult to breathe when he would lie down to sleep. When he did drift off, the curvature triggered gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), high blood pressure and a pressing need to urinate several times a night, all of which would disrupt his rest.
Over the years, Weinmann - a Washington, DC, native who lives in Thailand and has worked as a lawyer, writer, economist, urban planner and management consultant – sought medical help for much-needed sleep. He says he found that “every doctor tends to know what’s in their specialty, whether it’s urology or pulmonology.”
“I went to five major medical centers – four in America, one in Asia – and nine doctors in the last year and a half and none could pull it all together. Many wanted to operate on my back, which is highly dangerous in adults and not very successful,” Weinmann explains.
Called “teenage onset idiopathic scoliosis,” the disease left him unable to sleep more than an hour straight, which made him think he might have chronic fatigue syndrome. Then he noticed that his blood pressure would be elevated when he woke up. He researched the connection and found sleep apnea.
“It was like being waterboarded incessantly all night long, but I saw that and it was like ‘boom!’ Then I found a chapter about diseases of the chest wall in Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine,” Weinmann says of the piece written by F. Dennis McCool, MD, interim chief of pulmonary, sleep and critical care medicine at Memorial and medical director of the sleep labs at both Memorial and Kent hospitals.
“In the chapter, Dr. McCool connects chest wall disease with sleep apnea.”
Sleep apnea closes the throat when the person is asleep, interrupting the flow of air to the lungs. Dr. McCool wrote that he had seen significant improvement when patients with chest wall diseases use a bipap machine that uses pressure to get the air into the lungs.
Weinmann bought his own machine, but didn’t know what pressure setting to use. As a result, his lungs weren’t fully inflating and there was little difference in his sleep. Needing to get an expert’s help, he made an appointment in January and took the long transcontinental trip to see Dr. McCool.
The doctor scheduled a sleep study. Based on the numbers from Weinmann’s machine, Dr. McCool says he was able to start the machine on a high pressure and inch backwards until he reached the right setting.
After trying five categories of urine remedies, cognitive behavior therapy, GERD medications, and limiting caffeine during the day, Weinmann says his night in the Memorial Hospital Sleep Lab was “great.”
Once he was able to get more sleep, he found his daytime work schedule improved as he was able to concentrate more on work and did not need naps.
“It was a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders, like a major black cloud of the quality of my life going away and the sunshine coming back out!” says the Columbia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate. “I’m in heaven!”
Dr. McCool, who is also a professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, says he believes in blending clinical acumen with knowledge of respiratory physiology. This allows one to make better connections between a specific disease or condition with other possible symptoms.
“People don’t have the time to think about the physiological side of things, but they need to because there are so many answers in the overlap,” he says.
Weinmann, who remains temporarily in Rhode Island to continue seeing Dr. McCool, says he is so pleased with the comprehensive approach taken in caring for him at Memorial that he would like to “find a way to extend ‘Pawtucket care’ over the rest of my medical treatment, including outside Pawtucket, both now and into the future, in this country and also in Asia.”
There is a clinic at Memorial Hospital that specializes in treating patients with chest wall diseases such as kyphoscoliosis. To make an appointment with Dr. McCool or other physicians in the Memorial Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, call (401) 729-2635.