Ships in 24 hours
Earlier in June, we covered Vision Research Month on the blog, where I mentioned that I coach athletes who are visually impaired. Stephen is one of Goalball players I coach—while he has had many experiences I could have interviewed him about, I decided that it would be most interesting to learn about the impact of sleep apnea from somebody who lives with it, like Stephen.
Steve does far more than sleep though–here’s a bit more about him: “I have been blind for almost 21 years, but [have] found I do more than when I was sighted,” he says. In addition to playing goalball, of which he says “I enjoy playing because I feel that I am part of [a team], I feel that I don’t have to win a medal to be a winner, only play the game I love playing”, Steve also has tried martial arts (hapkido and tae kwon do), cross country skiing, lawn bowling, and kick boxing. He said he didn’t participate in sports when he had sight as he was afraid he would be watched—now he says since he can’t see people watching he doesn’t worry about that anymore!
Steve has a guide dog named Murray, and—somewhat like playing sports, probably!—he says “I sometimes forget I am blind” when walking with Murray, and that having a guide dog has motivated him to take on different challenges. Steve has 13 siblings, but he is the only one who is blind—“I am glad it was me because [I’m] not sure if another family member [could] handle being blind. I try to think of it [in a] positive way.”
Steve also used to struggle with drinking too much, and said his wife and daughter who he adopted, stopped him from drinking, and around the same time he also lost his sight. “I promised if I have a family, […] I would stop drinking and knew it was now time to grow up. […] It was the best thing I have ever done. [I’m] always proud of myself for stopping my drinking and still have the last bottle cap to remind me of what I used to be and [that I] said I would never be that way again. [I’m] still proud of myself and [it] only really matters how I feel about myself.,” Stephen says, continuing to say that he is the only one who can choose to live life in a positive way.
Steve learned he might have sleep apnea because of travelling for goalball. He said he had never noticed anything indicating he had breathing problems while he slept until he was at a goalball tournament a few years ago. “When our coach, who [was] a doctor noticed as I slept I stopped breathing for […] about 5 seconds,”. The coach said he should get checked out, but Stephen didn’t take action until march 2012 when he woke up one night sweating and having trouble breathing. His mother and step-father had slept over, and he couldn’t speak but got their attention by hitting the wall. They wanted to call 911, but Steve said no and managed to calm himself down. After it happened a few times, he finally decided to get taken care of this past January. He made an appointment with his family doctor, and got referred to a sleep centre. “I was brought into a room with others having the same problem […]”, and they watched a video about the sleep study equipment that tests hours slept, breathing, and heart rate. After two weeks, Steve was told to go to the sleep centre for an overnight visit where the nurses could monitor him as he slept and they could do more testing on his sleeping patterns and breathing. A few weeks later, he saw the specialist who told him he had sleep apnea and suggested he get a CPAP machine immediately—he hadn’t realized how serious things were until she said he needed to get the machine right away. He got the CPAP machine the next day—CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure”, and is either worn by a nasal cannula or face mask to push air into the lungs and keep the lungs open during sleep so that breathing doesn’t stop. For the first while, they had to change the settings, and used recordings of the machine’s data on a SD card so they could learn more about how best to set up the machine for Steve. Now that he’s gotten used to it, he doesn’t notice the machine as he sleeps.
Now that he’s been using CPAP for about six months, Steve says “I wish I reacted to this years [ago] […], I do feel with each visit to where I got the CPAP that I am getting more sleep. […] I don’t feel tired anymore during the day, [and I] rarely take any naps, which I would rather not do.” Steve says he is glad the CPAP is working for him
As some people may have concerns about taking their CPAP machine travelling, I asked Steve about that, too. “I find it only one more thing to carry, but if it helps me with my sleep apnea, then I can handle it.” In terms of air travel, he says, “I first worried I would have trouble taking it with me, but found it never was [and I] worried for nothing.” He does say that being blind, the only problem is finding distilled water needed for the CPAP when away—when we travelled to Toronto for goalball, I remember helping him look for this, but we couldn’t find it by the hotel, either, which can be a challenge.
Most often, people with sleep apnea do not realize they are having problems. Because of this, Stephen’s final thoughts are, “If someone tells you to get checked, do what they advise you. It could be the best advice—take care of yourself.”
To learn more about sleep apnea, visit the National Sleep Foundation. If you have sleep apnea, check out our pre-engraved Sleep Apnea bracelets and Sleep Apnea medical necklaces.
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