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Fighting the wrong battle?

Contributed by: D. Bryan Ferre

A little more than five years has come and gone since my wife passed away peacefully in her sleep from obstructive sleep apnea. Today, I felt inspired to share some of what I have learned since that fateful night.

My first introduction to OSA came the first night we slept in the same bed. As she drifted off to sleep, she began making this quiet purring sound. I thought, how cute—she snores. As the night evolved, her snoring became so loud and labored, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?”

Not long after we were married, Carrie started to have some very real challenges as she battled chronic depression—a condition she had been diagnosed with early in her young life. Her doctors worked with her to design a cocktail of prescription mood stabilizers, antidepressants and mild muscle relaxers. A cocktail she would modify as the years progressed—nevertheless, a regimen she would continue throughout her life. I often wondered if the physical exhaustion and daily pain in her legs and arms was the cause of or the result of her depression.

Over the years, as I watched her battle, I would often think how unlucky she was to have such a perilous journey.

She had been diagnosed with OSA. However, neither of us really knew anything about it. Often, while she was sleeping, I would witness apnea events. Moments when she would stop breathing for a period of at least ten seconds. Ten seconds? Sometimes, she would stop for a long enough period that I would have to intervene, wake her up and whisper not so gently, “turn over dear!” I guess it never really crossed my mind how damaging and dangerous this repeated interruption to her sleep actually was.

I never took sleep apnea seriously. In fact, it was often the subject of frivolous jokes and even laughing out loud. My children and I would often place bets as to how loud she would be. When we traveled with family and friends, remarks about how we would have to cover her face so others could sleep.

Something to laugh about—right?

Our life together was never easy. She was always tired. She was grumpy. Some days were so bad we barely spoke to one another.

I had no idea that her obstructive sleep apnea was literally robbing her of a happy life.

Not long after she died, I began to learn more about OSA. I learned that OSA may be the cause of a variety of chronic health problems—several of which I had watched her suffer from. Chronic depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, chronic fatigue and the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia. Her life had been ruined and ultimately taken—all because she never had a good, restorative night’s sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition which affects an estimated one billion worldwide. And the experts agree—the number of individuals who are suffering is growing. Some estimates, I have read, indicate more than 80% of individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.

A few years ago, at the age of 49, I decided to dedicate the remainder of my career doing all that I can to raise a confident warning voice. After an amazing career as a creative consultant, I decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in natural medicine. I completed a bachelor’s degree in holistic health science and I am now working on my doctorate in natural medicine.

As I explore the connections between sleep, mental health and disease, I am learning to see the very real warning signs of interrupted or impaired sleep.

My work will likely go largely unnoticed. But if I can have an impact on just one life. If I can help to restore health and wellness to just one—I will feel like I have been productive and that my wife’s tragic story will have not been in vain.

I have traveled the world over, raising my voice, standing up, and screaming at the top of my lungs in an effort to raise awareness and spread a new message of hope. An attempt to bring OSA out of obscurity. A message to pay attention. To focus on the critical role of healthy sleep.

I have told my wife’s story thousands of times. I have recorded and shared video messages that have in turn been shared hundreds of thousands of times. I have received messages of love and support from every corner of the world. I have made new friends in Russia, India, Pakistan, The U.A.E., Germany, Canada, Mexico, and Australia. Doctors, dentists, clinicians and pastors who have become my closest friends and allies in my mission.

My goal—no one should suffer from this condition. There are a variety of effective treatment options. Talk to your doctor. Get tested. Get treatment.

All those years, my wife battled chronic depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, chronic fatigue and the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia.

Maybe—just maybe—we were fighting the wrong battle.

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