Sleep apnea affects nearly 18 million Americans.

Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing for 10 seconds or more while sleeping. Oftentimes, treatment is difficult.

St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany made history in August. It became the first hospital in the region to perform a surgery called Inspire, which created a new world for the patients who need it.

Keith Flinton lives life to the fullest. The 49 year old is an avid water skier, doting grandfather, and husband to Tina. The Troy native has always had a flare for adventure and a call to service. These days he spends his time as an ER Technician at St. Peter’s. But it was not too long ago that he was also a patient there.

“My symptoms with that started in 2002,” he said.

Flinton was a first responder in Manhattan on 9/11. He traveled downstate as a member of the New York State Urban Search and Rescue Team. Years later, like so many other first responders, he’s learned that his work during that difficult time has led to a number of health problems.

“I have been treated through the Mt. Sinai program and the national program since then,” he said.

One of those issues made sleeping soundly nearly impossible for him and his wife.

“It got to the point where she wouldn’t even bother trying to wake me up anymore,” he described. “She would just reach over and reposition the mask or give me a nudge for me to stop snoring.”

The mask was attached to his CPAP machine he started using in 2016 after being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

“It’s not just snoring,” Dr. Jessica Riccio explained. “It can affect your blood pressure, your heart, your lungs over many years, and certainly, we know day time fatigue is very dangerous for motor vehicle accidents.”

Dr. Riccio and Dr. Siobhan Kuhar were part of a team of doctors that took Flinton’s case. Flinton is the first person in the Capital Region to have a hypoglossal nerve stimulator implanted to treat his sleep apnea.

“This has just been a game changer with regard to having something for patients who really have no other option,” Dr. Kuhar said.

“I was, like, this is it; I am sold on this and extremely happy,” Flinton said.

The device was activated following surgery in August. The small pacemaker-like implant was put in his chest and connected to nerves to stimulate his tongue to move before it blocks his airway.

“It’s just a weird sensation,” he said. “If I am not truly into a deep sleep, I can feel the generator pulsing; I can hear it. Every time, I am like, oh my God, this is fantastic. It’s a very good excitement.”

Flinton still has regular checkups and is working with Dr. Kuhar to find the right settings.

“We are just so thrilled to finally move this program forward.”

And Flinton is in control.

“I can do everything,” he said. “No restrictions.”

He can start, stop and pause the device.

“I hover it right over it, turn it on and the same thing for turning it off and pausing it.”

Even better, he said it has changed his everyday life. The remote is discrete. He can travel without the hassle of bringing along a bulky CPAP, and those sleepless nights are a thing of the past for him and his wife.

“My wife is happy,” he said with a laugh.

Dr. Kuhar and St. Peter’s already have several more patients scheduled for the surgery. It’s an outpatient procedure, and the recovery time is relatively quick.