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New fund to help heart patients better cope with sleep apnea

Lois and Paul McCarron

Throughout his life, Paul McCarron served as an advocate for public health and human services. As a Minnesota legislator, he was the architect behind the Community Social Services Act (CSSA), landmark welfare-reform legislation. For another project, he went undercover as a janitor so he could see firsthand the conditions at state hospitals.

So it’s fitting that, even in death, McCarron’s legacy of promoting health and well-being continues. When friends asked his wife, Lois McCarron, where they should send memorials after Paul’s death from congestive heart failure last August, she knew exactly where he would want the funds to go: to support the work of Conrad Iber, M.D., at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Lung Science and Health.

So far the Paul McCarron Sleep Medicine Fund has received nearly $10,000 in contributions from 66 donors to support Iber’s research, which focuses on how to best manage sleep disorders for people who have heart problems.

Iber—medical director of sleep medicine services at the University and a professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine—also served as Paul’s longtime pulmonary physician.

The McCarrons were sold on Iber’s expertise and bedside manner soon after meeting him, when, after simply listening to Paul’s medical symptoms, Iber asked him to lift his pant legs. Sure enough, Iber had correctly guessed that Paul suffered from thrombosis (blood clots in his legs), which can lead to life-threatening pulmonary emboli. Not only wouldn’t the McCarrons get the doctor’s permission to fly without an oxygen tank—the reason for their visit—but Paul wasn’t even allowed to leave the clinic without treatment. After an ultrasound, he was immediately admitted to the hospital.

Conrad Iber, M.D.

Paul McCarron coped with sleep apnea for years. And he developed heart failure, which caused his condition to deteriorate.

Fortunately, Iber was well aware of the “huge overlap” between the two conditions when the heart begins to fail. Unlike the 10 percent of the general population who experience sleep apnea, or breathing pauses while sleeping, 50 to 70 percent of those with heart failure endure what’s known as complex sleep apnea, which impairs heart function, disrupts sleep, and leads to a higher death rate.

While a biphasic positive airway pressure technology called adaptive servo-ventilation has been used to treat the condition for several years, it is not used consistently or in a structured way.

“[The McCarron fund] helps us move toward creating a clinical care pathway for cardiac patients dealing with sleep apnea—both during hospitalization and on an outpatient basis,” says Iber. He believes so strongly in this goal that he has made his own donation to the Paul McCarron Sleep Medicine Fund.

“What can we do that we can do better?” he asks. “A tool, an approach, a pathway? In this case, we’re trying to develop new pathways for managing patients.”

Iber expects the project to attract additional private funding and industry support by the time the work gets underway later this year.

To make a gift to the Paul McCarron Sleep Medicine Fund, visit www.giving.umn.edu/giveto/mccarron.

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