Breathing Room

May 23, 2019

Lucia Maitin’s terrified scream woke her husband Carlos Maitin just in time to see the car he was driving quickly approaching a tree. He stomped on the brakes and managed to stop with only a foot to spare.

Carlos, age 54, had been in denial about his sleep and breathing issues for years. Falling asleep in the movies—who doesn’t? Nodding off in the middle of a conversation with friends—he was just a little tired. Falling asleep while driving and nearly crashing the car with his wife and teenage son in it—that was a wake-up call.

For several years, Carlos had complained of not sleeping well. He’d wake up many times during the night gasping for air, and he dreaded going to bed. He says he’d wake up more tired after sleeping than before he went to bed. He’d go through his days without his usual energy and composure. He’d gained weight from his reduced level of physical activity.

Carlos is a deservedly proud man and could not believe he needed help. He served 25 years with the Union City, New Jersey, Police Department, taking risky assignments in the Narcotics Task Force, Major Crimes Unit and more. “I worked 95 percent of my time on the night shift, and I never had a problem at work. But I was having problems sleeping during the day,” he says.

As chance would have it, Lucia is the office manager for Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group – Pulmonology in North Bergen, New Jersey, where Aida Capo, M.D., FCCP, specializes in patients who have pulmonary problems. Lucia had been encouraging Carlos to come in and be seen, but his pride had kept him from making an appointment. Finally he decided, “I’ll go in for the test and prove I have nothing wrong with me!”

Relief at Long Last

During his first appointment, Dr. Capo listened to his symptoms and set up an overnight appointment at the Sleep-Wake Center at Palisades Medical Center.

Marveling at the experience, Carlos recalls, “I didn’t feel like I was in a hospital room; I felt like I was in a hotel. They told me what they were going to do, put on the wires and hooked me up to the monitors. Halfway through the night, they woke me to put a mask on and I fell back asleep.”

When they woke him up to tell him the test was over, he pleaded with the worker to let him sleep a couple more hours. “I felt rested for the first time in a very long time,” he says. “How stupid I was to wait this long!”

After seeing the results of Carlos’ sleep study, Dr. Capo diagnosed him with severe sleep apnea and prescribed a bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine to use while sleeping to correct his breathing problem. BiPAP works by increasing pressure in inhalation to open up the major airways and lowering pressures in exhalation to maintain those open airways. The overall effect is to decrease obstruction and therefore eliminate snoring. Based on data collected during a sleep study, pulmonary professionals calibrate the level for inhaling and exhaling specifically for each patient. Carlos’ BiPAP also records and downloads information about how long he is sleeping and what his blood oxygen saturation numbers are so that if a problem arises, Dr. Capo will catch and correct it quickly.

Sleeping Soundly

Patients like Carlos come in with symptoms like sleep apnea, fatigue, headaches, snoring and falling asleep when they are idle, Dr. Capo says. By not dealing with their problem, patients risk worsening symptoms that can lead to higher risk of stroke, hypertension, heart attack and erectile dysfunction. Today, instead of thrashing around in his sleep, Carlos sleeps so quietly that Lucia checks to be sure he’s OK.

And is he ever OK now. “I’ve lost 54 pounds,” Carlos states. “I have tons of energy now, and the more energy I have, the more I want to exercise at the gym, go for walks and play sports. It’s like a brand-new life!”

Learn more about how to put a stop to sleep apnea.

Dr. Capo is board certified in internal medicine. To make an appointment, call 855-424-WELL (9355).

The Sleep-Wake Center at Palisades Medical Center has earned a five-year accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for all types of sleep testing. For more information, call 201-854-5412.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.