Sleep Apnea Isn’t Just For Grown-Ups

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Sleep apnea is something that affects a lot of adults.  But kids can- and do- suffer from it.  One family in Lycoming County knows that all too well.

Oscar Schmalhofer lives with his family in Montoursville.  The 3-year-old loves playing with his cars.  But some medical issues when he was just a baby started his family off on a long journey.

"He needed oxygen, he was struggling at night, taking pauses.  And that's when we met Dr. Wubbel," said Oscar's mom Patsy.

Dr. Catherine Wubbel is a pediatric pulmonologist at Geisinger Medical Center near Danville.  After a series of tests involving doctors from all kinds of disciplines, Dr. Wubbel diagnosed little Oscar with sleep apnea, a disorder usually seen in adults.

"His airways were small and underdeveloped, which caused part of the breathing problems," said Dr. Wubbel.
 In Oscar's case, some other abnormalities were the cause of the sleep apnea.  But Dr. Wubbel points out that adult issues, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, can often lead to sleep apnea, which is now happening in children.

 "They're more common than you would think.  Many are breathing related, but the majority are behavior related," noted Dr. Wubbel.

Oscar himself remembers the many sleep studies it took to figure out what was wrong, telling us that they put lots of stickers on his head and tummy.  A tracheotomy eventually helped him.  That's an opening surgically created in the windpipe to allow direct access to a breathing tube.  Today, he goes to preschool, plays with his friends and older brothers, and continues to get stronger. 

"He's had quite a 3 years of life!  But the trach helped him expand and grow.  And he's an active, growing 3-year-old," said Patsy.