Todd Pownall’s children would laugh and say he sounded like a freight train when he fell asleep in his chair. But after his sleep study at WellStar Paulding Hospital, he found out his snoring was no laughing matter. Diagnosed with severe sleep apnea, the 48-year-old Dallas resident learned he had a Respiratory Disturbance Index of 59, which means he had breathing issues like snoring and arousal from about sleep 59 times per hour.
“It’s no wonder I had not been sleeping well for several years,” said Pownall. “I would get up exhausted instead of refreshed. I kept going to the doctor and he would give me Ambien, which helped some at first, but then not at all. My wife, Julie, said my snoring had gotten worse and I was getting up at all hours of the night. Julie went with me to my next doctor’s visit and we told him we had researched sleep studies and we felt I needed one. The lack of sleep was wearing on me.”
Pownall is not alone: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders. An additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems.
An ‘Off-the-Charts,’ Amazing Experience
The always-on-the-go Post 2 County Commissioner, real estate broker and father of five visited a WellStar pulmonologist and was scheduled for the first available sleep study at the Sleep Center at WellStar Paulding Hospital.
“I was so desperate to get this resolved, I told them to call me if they had a cancellation,” he said. “I got a call on a Friday at 4:30 p.m., asking if I could be there at 8 p.m. – I dropped everything and went.” Pownall says from the minute he walked in the door, “everything I experienced at the Sleep Center was absolutely wonderful. Loretta Laskey, my sleep technician, was off-the-charts amazing. I’ve never had a healthcare professional who was that good – who explained things in that much detail and took that much time with me.
“The Sleep Center was like a very nice, very comfortable hotel room. I felt like I was at home. From A to Z, my experience was amazing. I even received a thoughtful, handwritten note from Loretta about a week later.”
The polysomnogram test, which requires an overnight visit, measures parameters like breathing pattern, electrical brain and heart activity, eye movement and chin and limb muscle movement. Neelima Kothari, M.D., the WellStar pulmonologist who interpreted Pownall’s sleep study, explained that, during a study, patients are watched for respiratory effort, nasal flow, heart rate, snoring, oxygen saturation and different sleep stages.
At about 2:30 a.m., Laskey woke Pownall and had him put on a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. A CPAP machine delivers pressurized air through a mask placed over the nose or whole face while sleeping. The pressurized air ensures that the upper airway passages remain open, preventing apnea (pauses in breathing) and snoring. He was back asleep by 3 a.m., and awakened by Laskey at 6 a.m., when the study was complete.
“I woke up feeling better than I had in years,” marveled Pownall. “It was unbelievable. After just three hours with the CPAP, I felt ready to conquer the world. I usually woke up in such a fog, and this Saturday morning, I was so alert.”
Pownall showered, treated himself to a Waffle House breakfast, then headed to his office, where he worked with a newfound zest until 6 p.m. “I just felt so darn great. When I walked through the door at home, Julie said, ‘this is a different person.’”
Squidward? Darth Vader? A New Man
Pownall said the hardest aspect of the sleep study was waiting to get his CPAP machine, which was his prescribed treatment. “It only took a week or so, but I knew what I was missing,” he laughed. “Since I got it, I haven’t gone one night without it – it’s an absolute godsend.”
Though his children call him Squidward (from the cartoon program SpongeBob SquarePants) and his wife tells everyone she’s going to bed with Darth Vader, Pownall says the CPAP machine has been a blessing for his whole family.
“I’m more alert, focused and energetic,” he said. “I enjoy life more. Julie says I’m less irritable and I know I’m a better Dad. I wish this for anyone who has sleep issues. It will absolutely change your life. And WellStar Paulding Hospital is definitely the best place to go for diagnosis and treatment.”
“WellStar sleep physicians and technicians are experienced, passionate and well versed in a broad range of sleep disorders,” said Dr. Kothari. “WellStar is the best choice for sleep problems.”