Breathe Easy: Lung Volume Reduction Surgery


Nancy Bettis, LVRS Patient

Last year, Nancy Bettis couldn’t vacuum her living room without having to take a break to catch her breath. Now, she bowls four days a week, knocking down pins like she never stopped.

“I got out of the hospital on the 19th of December,” Nancy said, “and I went back to bowling in February.”

Nancy’s saving grace was Lung Volume Reduction Surgery, or LVRS. LVRS is often the last treatment option available for people suffering from severe emphysema or COPD, and offers a greatly improved quality of life for qualifying patients.

“People who qualify for this procedure are pretty severe cases,” said Stephen Hazelrigg, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine who has performed nearly 450 LVRS procedures. “They are extremely limited in what they can do at this stage. So, they’re grateful for any improvement.”

How it feels not to be able to breathe easy

This limited breathing ability is debilitating—not to mention scary.

 “You almost go into a panic,” Nancy said. “You feel like you have a chain around your chest.”

“It’s kind of like having your mouth covered, your nose closed shut, and it’s just a struggle,” said Robert Robison, fellow LVRS patient. “It got to the point for me where I had to have oxygen in the shower.”

How lung volume reduction surgery helps

During this procedure, 20-30 percent of the lung area damaged by emphysema can be removed to allow the remaining tissue and surrounding muscles to work more efficiently, making breathing easier. By removing the damaged tissue, the diaphragm can relax and be able to move up and down while breathing. In turn, this enables the compressed lung tissue to re-expand so less air is trapped and high negative pressures, which cause the airways to collapse, can be reduced.

“When you have end-stage emphysema, your lungs actually get bigger,” Dr. Hazelrigg explained. “With this procedure, we go in and remove the worst part. That allows things to shrink down so people can breathe better.”

Memorial’s lung volume reduction surgery program is one of only six healthcare facilities in the United States – and the only one which does not provide lung transplant services – to earn accreditation by the Joint Commission. As no other Illinois hospitals offer this procedure, patients may travel from Chicago or St. Louis to Springfield for the surgery, rather than vice versa. 

“That’s not typical in the medical community,” Dr. Hazelrigg said.

For patients like Nancy and Robert, the procedure has changed—and saved—their lives.

“I feel like a walking miracle,” Robert said. “I was blessed with a second chance at life.”

For more information on this breakthrough surgery or to request an initial consultation, visit