Thursday, July 22, 2010

Father Manages Sleep Apnea on National TV in “Losing It with Jillian” Finale

The final episode of NBC’s “Losing It with Jillian” serves as a warning about the lifestyle factors that can lead to sleep apnea. After years of refusing treatment for severe sleep apnea a family’s 328 pound patriarch decided to clean up his act fearing he could “drop dead at any second.”

Enter tough love celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels. The famous taskmaster from “The Biggest Loser” whips a family into shape each episode by teaching them the value of fitness and nutrition.

For the Alvarez family the path to weight loss began with a difficult visit to the doctor’s office. The father David Alvarez Sr. learned he was risking his life every time he went to sleep without a CPAP machine. An overnight sleep study showed his sleep apnea was especially severe. Breathing pauses lasted up to 32 seconds, and his apnea index was 64.

He begrudgingly resumed CPAP therapy, but years of sleep apnea had taken a toll on his health. Doctors advised against doing activities that would moderately raise his heart rate, making a weight loss plan more difficult.

His son David Jr. was unhealthy and on track to develop diabetes and sleep apnea. In a heartbreaking or depending how you view it, manipulative scene the two had a father son chat about CPAP and obstructive sleep apnea. David Jr. tried wearing the CPAP mask, while his father explained why it could be his future. David Sr. said he was ashamed that he had to “do this or I’m dead.”

There is no shame in a therapy that can save your life. Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices promote obstructive sleep apnea, but some people develop the sleep disorder anyways.

The lesson that should be taken to heart is that you have some control and you can reduce your chances of getting sleep apnea. There are treatments but there is no surefire magic bullet for people who already have sleep apnea. Weight loss can help but won’t eliminate symptoms for severe cases. An approach using diet and exercise should be paired with CPAP, oral appliance therapy or surgery for sleep apnea.

The full episode is available streaming on Hulu until August 19th.

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