Mrs Dana Williams - Breathe-Implant

Mrs Dana Williams, aged 44, from Canvey Island in Essex, is one of the first patients in the UK to benefit from a Breathe-Implant to restore her nasal airway. Her operation was performed in January 2010 by Mr George Fayad, consultant ENT surgeon at Spire Hartswood Hospital. Dana has kindly agreed to share her experience.

What were the initial symptoms?

I was getting pounding headaches for up to three days at a time. My sinuses felt congested and it was affecting my breathing, especially at night. I have always had a tendency to suck my tongue so compensating by breathing through my mouth wasn’t really an option. 

Initially, what did you do to try to help yourself?

I tried all sorts of painkillers and decongestants including vapour inhalations. Nothing really helped. I wondered if the headaches were due to long hours at a computer screen. I work as a bank manager for NatWest in Hadleigh, Essex so it was impossible to avoid using the computer. Anyway, that idea turned out to be a red herring.

At what point did you decide to seek specialist advice?

Amazingly, I put up with the headaches for nearly two years before asking my GP for a referral. I have private medical insurance with Aviva through my job and I went to see Dr Rudy Capildeo, a consultant neurologist at Spire Hartswood Hospital. Dr Capildeo had treated me in the past for nocturnal epilepsy and he requested an MRI scan. When the scan results came through, the first question he asked me was “When did you break your nose?”. This was a bolt out of the blue as I didn’t know I had [broken my nose].  Speaking to my family about this later I learned that, when I was about three years old, my brother accidentally hit me across the nose with a shovel when we were building a snowman in the garden. My nose had probably been broken for 40 years without me knowing!

Dr Capildeo explained that the break in my nose had probably caused my nasal valve to weaken and gradually block more and more of my airway. He felt that the best person to help me would be Mr George Fayad, a consultant ENT surgeon at Spire Hartswood. 

What made you decide to go ahead with surgery?

Mr Fayad had recently started offering a new procedure to insert a titanium implant to hold open the nasal valve and improve airflow. He was confident this would be the solution for me after trying two very simple tests. First he simply pulled my cheeks downwards to check that this improved the airflow – which it did. Then he asked me to try wearing Breathe-Right strips on my nose to open up the airway. I tried these for a week when I was on holiday and immediately got a sudden rush of air through my nose. This gave me great faith in going ahead with the operation. 

Can you describe the operation experience?

I was very nervous beforehand. Although I’ve had major operations before, I think I was especially nervous because this involved my face. Mr Fayad was very kind and reassuring and gave me a big hug immediately before the operation. It was done under general anaesthetic and I stayed at Spire Hartswood for one night. As well as inserting the implant, Mr Fayad removed two polyps [overgrown tissue] from my nose. Amazingly, it turned out that one of these contained some bone fragments – presumably dating back to the snowman incident.

The night after the operation was the worst part. There was packing inside my nose and, because I don’t ever breathe through my mouth, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to breathe at all if I fell asleep. Sue, the staff nurse who looked after me, tried to convince me that, if I could talk then I could breathe, but somehow I didn’t believe her. My mouth was very dry and I must have got through the hospital’s entire stock of ice lollies!

My husband picked me up the next morning and I went home to recover, still with dressings inside and on my nose. The nurses gave me glycerine coated buds to take home to keep my lips moist. Mr Fayad’s secretary put me in touch with another patient who had had the same operation and I found this very helpful. She recommended vapour lozenges which acted as a decongestant in the early days.

What did the recovery process involve?

The first thing to say is that there is no instant improvement in breathing. I could feel some improvement when the nose packs dissolved and the dressings were reduced. The swelling and bruising and took a few weeks to settle down. I kept thinking I was going to sneeze and this made me a bit anxious, but actually I didn’t sneeze once. I used Bio-Oil to rejuvenate the skin on my nose and just under the nose where I have one tiny scar from the operation.

A turning point for me was when I was in Sainsbury’s with my husband a few weeks after the operation. I was suddenly bombarded by all different smells of fruit, bread, cheese and fish. The operation had had an unexpected bonus – giving me back a good sense of smell. I hadn’t known what I’d been missing - mind you there are some benefits of a poor sense of smell, as I soon realised!

What impact has the surgery had on your life?

It’s two months since the operation and I can now say with certainty that it has been a great success and I’ve had far fewer and less severe headaches. It’s as if I had been breathing with a cloth under my nose all these years and suddenly the cloth has gone. I can now breathe deeply and my husband says I have stopped snoring – so he’s gained from it too! Mr Fayad reckons it will take six months to get the full benefits, so I’m not there yet.

I needn’t have worried about my face. The implant has slightly bulked out my nose but I quite like the effect as my nose was rather thin before. Friends have told me I look “ten years younger” so that’s another bonus!

What advice would you give to another patient in a similar position to you?

If the Breathe-Right strips help your breathing then you should seriously consider having the Breathe-Implant operation. Put the strips on as soon as you get home at the end of the day and keep them on all night. For a relatively short period of pain, the operation has given me a huge gain.

One practical piece of advice for anyone who has had surgery where the nose has been lifted up: don’t pull a tight sweater over your head. I did and it really hurt; I thought I was going to pull my nose apart again!

With Dana’s health so much improved, she and her husband Paul are planning a new life in the south of France. Dana is willing to talk to any patient considering Breathe-Implant surgery at Spire Hartswood Hospital. Call us on 01277 266 761 if you would like us to arrange this.

The ENT surgeon's view - comments from Mr George Fayad

"Dana's case gives a very good illustration of the effect of breathing problems, not only on the patient's own life but also on their family, partner etc. Many patients will not realise what they are missing until their breathing problem is sorted. 

Poor breathing has a detrimental effect on a person's physical and mental health. Patients that have their breathing treated often find that the treatment benefits other conditions they suffer from. Restored breathing may also prevent other medical conditions occurring in the future. For example, conditions such as asthma and obstructive sleep apnoea are directly linked to nasal problems. All our organs rely on oxygen. The equation is simple.... good breathing has a positive effect on every part of our body."