OSA Super Bowl

Friday, February 28, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - A new study has borne out what HME provider Renee McPhee has suspected for quite awhile: You can’t be a 379-pound NFL lineman with a 26-inch neck and not have sleep apnea.

“You just can’t,” said McPhee, a sleep specialist who owns Southern Medical in Atlanta. “I’m 99% positive.”

McPhee issued her observation in early January, a couple of weeks before the Super Bowl. A week later, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a clinical study that validated her observation.

Conducted during the summer of 2002, the SleepTech / ResMed study involved more than 300 players from eight NFL teams - Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, and the Washington Redskins - who were evaluated for the prevalence of sleep apnea. Fifty-two received overnight sleep studies.

The results: 14% of the players had sleep apnea, nearly five times higher than noted in previous studies of similarly aged adults. Furthermore, the prevalence of sleep apnea in the larger, more high-risk players (linemen) was a whopping 34%.

ResMed and SleepTech, which operates 20 hospital-based sleep labs in the Tri-State New York area, plan to use the study to help educate physicians and the general public about OSA - not only that it can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness and other problems, but that it afflicts a wide range of individuals. (An estimated 20 million to 25 million people in the United States suffer from OSA, many of them untreated.)

“People look to these guys as heroes and role models,” Ron Richard, ResMed’s vice president of marketing, told HME News. “If a guy who looks healthy and is performing on TV and being paid a lot of money comes forward and says, ‘I got help for this and feel a lot better,’ it makes a huge impact on people in terms of awareness and might help them get treated.”

Medcare, a manufacturer of sleep technology, and the National Sleep Foundation have provided grants for public education based on the study.

While the results may surprise the Average Joe who sees obstructive sleep apnea as an affliction of the overweight, middle-aged couch potato - not super fit, albeit large, athletes - they don’t surprise McPhee.

She treats a former NFL player, and he’s told her tales of how pro teams rent entire hotel floors when they’re on the road. They have to, the patient said. So many players snore that the racket is unbearable to other hotel guests. That got McPhee thinking about a potential business opportunity.

“If we can get them treated and concentrating more, I think there would be a lot fewer off-side penalties,” she said.

Vyto Kap, co-managing director of SleepTech Consulting Group and a former NFL tightend, agrees.

“NFL guys are cognizant of their bodies, but there is a direct correlation to the guy driving a truck or sitting behind a desk who is 27 years old,” Kap said. “The guys who are treating their sleep disordered breathing notice a big difference in performance.” HME