Amelia, Huxley, Selina Marvit

Siblings with Sleep Apnea Finally Find Relief

By Abby Sinnott

Dave Marvit, a father of three, imagines new ideas for the Internet for his job as vice president of Internet Research at Fujitsu. So when he wanted to show his family pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, Dr. Alan Uba, his daughter sleeping, Mavit video recorded her and posted the footage on YouTube. He then asked Uba to send the link to any specialists he thought might be able to help.

"When we brought the kids in during the day to the doctor, they seemed completely healthy," says Marvit. "But at night, they were having trouble breathing while they slept."

Marvit's three children — five-year-old twins Selina and Huxley; and eight-year-old Amelia all suffered from different levels of sleep apnea, a disorder in which a person's breathing is interrupted while they're asleep. These interruptions may occur hundreds of times a night, causing a person to gasp for air and never allowing them to get into deep, restful sleep.

While sleep apnea may seem relatively harmless — considering it happens when a person is asleep and unaware — if left untreated, it can lead to other serious problems, including high blood pressure, heart conditions, attention problems and cognitive dysfunction.

Marvit's children were referred to Dr. Kristina Rosbe, director of the Pediatric Otolaryngology Division at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. Rosbe is an expert in diagnosing and managing airway disease in children.

Rosbe took one look at the Marvit children's throats and knew immediately that they suffered from breathing problems due to enlarged tonsils. She decided to have Amelia participate in an overnight sleep study at UCSF. During this study, Amelia's heart rate, brain activity and oxygen levels were closely monitored.

Amelia then had a tonsillectomy to treat her breathing difficulties. Rosbe used a technology called coblation to surgically remove Amelia's tonsils. Coblation, which stands for controlled ablation, uses radiofrequency at a low temperature and a saline solution to gently and precisely remove the tissues.

As a result, recovery time, pain and the risk of injury to surrounding tissue should be less compared to the standard tonsillectomy procedure, which uses stronger heat to cut and cauterize tissue. The heat causes some injury to surrounding tissue, and can result in a long, painful recovery period.

"I used to counsel children and their parents that they should expect it to take two weeks for life to return to normal after a tonsillectomy," Rosbe said. "But this technique can significantly reduce the recovery time."

In fact, Amelia's surgery was completed in less than an hour and she was able to return home the same day, where she spent the afternoon weeding the garden. And before leaving the hospital, Amelia had a special request: she wanted to take home her tonsils. While this wasn't possible, Rosbe used Amelia's camera to take a snapshot of Amelia's tonsils for a keepsake.

Amelia's breathing problems improved dramatically. A few months later, both her sibling underwent tonsillectomies performed by Rosbe to treat their sleep apnea.

"I was very impressed with the uniformly high quality of the entire team of people who took care of my children," says Marvit. "We're very fortunate to have UCSF right in our backyard."

Story written in May 2011

Abby Sinnott is a freelance writer in London.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Otolaryngology

Sleep Disorders Center
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Appointments: (415) 353-7337
Fax: (415) 476-9278

Sleep Laboratory
1600 Divisadero St., Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 353-1957
Fax: (415) 476-9278

Conditions Treated