By Gilma Avalos

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. The disorder causes people to stop breathing while they sleep.

It’s a condition Val Chisholm has battled for over a decade.

“I just never really felt rested,” Chisholm says.

He tried the CPAP machine, mouth guards, and nasal pillows, but says his results were always the same.

“I would always wake up gasping. I would always feel tired. I would have constant migraines.”

The condition can impact anyone, but patients who are older, overweight and male are most at-risk.

Dr. Arun Badi is an ear, nose, and throat surgeon in Dallas. He says snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, and it’s usually spotted by a patient’s significant other or spouse.

“Snoring indicates a partial obstruction that something is partially blocking the airway. When the snoring gets worse, the obstruction keeps getting worse and then becomes a complete obstruction. That’s when it’s called an apnea. When people have an apnea, they are literally choking on themselves,” he explains.

For decades the CPAP machine has been the gold standard of treatment. Experts says it has a nearly 100% success rate, if used. Therein lies the issue.

“About 40 to 50% of patients can’t tolerate it. They take it off and throw it away,” Dr. Badi explains.

But a new FDA-approved device on the market is inspiring hope for patients who have exhausted other treatment alternatives.

The Inspire Implant stimulates the nerve that controls the tongue and other muscles around it. Think of it as a pacemaker for the tongue.

Dr. Dadi installed it in Val’s chest via surgery last November.

“I haven’t looked back since,” says Chisholm.

Before going to bed, Chisholm turns on the device with a handheld remote. The implant senses when his breathing slows down, sending an electrical impulse to the nerve and muscles around the tongue to open the airway. He says he’s finally able to breathe easier.

“It’s great being able to sleep and wake up rested.”

Val says he felt some initial soreness after surgery and that it can be hard to speak when the device is turned on. The device should be turned off while patients are not awake.

Dr. Badi recomends his patients try the CPAP machine, and other solutions like losing weight and tonsil removal before opting for the implant device. He says patients with obstructive sleep apnea, where the obstruction happens at the tongue, are the best candidates for this procedure.

It costs about $20,000, not including surgical costs. Insurance may cover it on a case by case basis.