JOPLIN, Mo. — 22,000,000 Americans suffer from sleep apnea.

For many, a “CPAP” machine can treat the problem, but it doesn’t work for every patient.

Freeman Health System has a solution. It’s a small implant with a big impact.

“Hypoglossal nerve stimulator, the nerve to the tongue, we place a little lead around that. And it senses when they breathe and sends a message that tongue to kind of stick the tongue out a little bit when they breathe at night opens their airway,” said Dr. Kent McIntire, ENT Specialist.

Freeman Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, Dr. Kent McIntire, says the outpatient procedure is an option for patients with obstructive sleep apnea who can’t tolerate a CPAP machine.

“Find that nerve and then we put a wire down to this and wire between the ribs that senses the breathing. And when they breathe at night, again, that tongue just opens the airway. They have a little remote control, that they turn it on at night, and then in the morning when they get up they turn it off,” said McIntire.

It takes about one hour for the surgery, and a month for recovery before patients have a built-in treatment.

Body mass index is a key component to qualify.

“To be a candidate for your BMI, your weight versus your height has to be at a certain level for insert patients that’s 32. For Medicare, it’s 35. You have to be at or below that. So the really, really heavy people right now are not candidates that may change in the future,” said McIntire.

Dr. McIntire says he has been offering the “Inspire” treatment for about six months with a very high success rate.

Freeman Health System is the sole provider of this treatment in the region.