When the sleep specialist looked at the results of Floyd Rowland’s second sleep test, he asked, “How are you even alive?” The at-home sleep test confirmed what the former Marine from Oceanside, California, already suspected: he had severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). His Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) was 64, which meant he woke up at least 64 times in an hour and stopped breathing for at least 10 seconds each time.
Floyd, 58, had known he had OSA since his first inlab sleep test in 2007. But because of his military background, his inclination was to put everyone else first and he did not seek treatment.
Soon after Floyd was first diagnosed with OSA, he had other issues that seemed to him more pressing to deal with: aging and ill parents and inlaws, his wife’s two bouts of cancer, and his best friend dying. And if all that wasn’t enough, he just wasn’t aware of how serious sleep apnea can be. “I just kept putting my own health on the backburner,” he said. TWO
DIAGNOSES: FIRST OSA, THEN AFIB
It all began in 2007 after he returned from a tour of duty that included Desert Storm. Floyd’s wife, Sylvia, noticed him snoring and not breathing while he slept, and alerted his doctors. At his doctor’s urging, Floyd agreed to the in-lab sleep study. Sleeping hooked up to monitors and under the scrutiny of technicians was a difficult and unpleasant experience for him. “You have to sleep in a strange bed with someone watching you on camera. You’re hooked up to multiple leads and with goo in your hair.” With pressing family issues to manage, Floyd ignored the diagnosis of OSA.
Research has shown that OSA can cause atrial fibrillation. About six years after the first sleep test, Floyd was diagnosed with AFib. Floyd and Sylvia had come home from a party when he felt his heart racing. Sylvia took one look at him and urged him to go the ER, but he said no. About six hours into the evening, with no change, he relented. His symptoms were successfully treated medically with metoprolol and atenolol.
Exactly one year later to the day, while on a family vacation cruise, Floyd had another AFib episode. Once back at home, he went to see his doctor, who again was able to address the problem with medication though he continued to have periodic episodes. Whenever he found his heart racing, his solution was to take a baby aspirin and rest.
FAMILY MEMBERS SPUR HIM TO ACTION
Both conditions seemed to get worse with time. Sylvia became increasingly alarmed when Floyd would fall asleep during the day–in the middle of conversations and even while driving. Sylvia discussed her concerns with Floyd’s younger brother, Bill, who lived in Georgia.
About three years ago, at another family gathering, Sylvia and Bill “ganged up” on Floyd. “Apparently, Billy caught me not breathing,” Floyd said. Sylvia and Bill told Floyd he could no longer sit back. He had to do something about both his medical issues or, they feared, he would have a stroke and die.
Floyd finally agreed to see a doctor about it. His provider recommended another sleep test. Floyd agreed but only because this time he could do it at home in his own bed using the WatchPAT®. “I wasn’t going through the nightmare of having someone watch over me again,” he said. “The WatchPAT® was very easy to use.”
This time, when the test results came back, Floyd realized: “How can I be that sick? But there it was in black and white.” He was diagnosed with severe OSA. His physician convinced him of the need to control both his AFib and OSA to help prevent a stroke. This motivated him to treat his OSA with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
CPAP WAS VALENTINE’S DAY PRESENT
Floyd came home with his CPAP on Valentine’s Day, February 2017. “My wife was crying for happiness because I had finally done something about my sleep apnea.”
The CPAP has made his life so much better, he said. “I don’t fall asleep during the day anymore,” he said. “I feel like a whole different person. I’m not waking up multiple times each night. I haven’t slept like that in 10 years.”
Admittedly, Floyd was somewhat reluctant to get a CPAP because he didn’t want the discomfort of wearing a mask every night. Fortunately, the CPAP he was given fits just over his nose and is not at all uncomfortable or bulky, he said.
About eight months later, in October that year, Floyd underwent cryoablation for his AFib. The cryoablation and CPAP have changed his life, he said. “I have not to this day had another AFib attack,” Floyd said. “And I have more energy to do the things I enjoy.”
GRATEFUL FOR ‘PUSH’ FROM FAMILY, DOCTORS
Floyd never sleeps without his CPAP and is grateful to his wife and brother for pushing him to take action. “Between my doctors, my persistent stubborn little brother, and my lovely wife, I owe them my life,” he said. “If I had not gotten my sleep apnea taken care of, I would not have been able to fix my heart.”
Although Floyd doesn’t like being in the spotlight, he has become an advocate for taking care of one’s health issues sooner rather than later and especially with addressing sleep apnea. Says Floyd: “Now I tell people whenever the subject comes up: You have to be more aware of your health and don’t be afraid to ask for help and discuss your symptoms with your doctors. If they tell you to take a sleep test, take it, don’t wait. There’s an easy and comfortable way now to get the results at home, in your own bed. Sleep apnea is a serious health hazard.”