Interventional Pulmonology Now More Common for Kids

New technology is enabling Children’s of Alabama pulmonologists to offer more interventional procedures.

In his career as a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s of Alabama, Ryne Simpson, M.D., has typically cared for children with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, prematurity and asthma. But as more children born with premature lungs survive and require tracheostomies and ventilators at home, “the flavor of the field has changed a bit,” Simpson said, “and interventional pulmonology is becoming more prevalent in pediatrics.” That’s why earlier this year Children’s began using new technology to offer more interventional procedures to its patients.

Interventional pulmonology is a subspecialty of pulmonary medicine dealing with minimally invasive, advanced bronchoscopic procedures, an example being removal of foreign bodies or other non-native material. Previously, that required surgery or a referral to an otolaryngologist, but both strategies have limitations. “Pulmonologists receive specific training in pediatric lung disease, which a surgeon or ENT physician may not always have,” Simpson said. With specialized equipment, “it can be a better situation for the patient.”

Historically, that equipment has been better suited for use in adults, and adult pulmonologists perform many more interventional procedures than pediatric pulmonologists. Thanks to the development of smaller tools and equipment, Children’s of Alabama can now offer certain interventional procedures to its patients.

One example is flexible bronchoscopic cryotherapy, something previously offered only in the adult setting. Children’s began using it in February 2023. It involves performing a bronchoscopy, then using a special probe to freeze a foreign body, piece of tissue or blood clot and pull it out for examination. “Previously, it could take hours because we often wouldn’t get the whole thing at once,” Simpson said. “Now we’re able to complete these procedures in significantly less time, which has been pretty amazing for the patients.”

Children’s also is working closely with the adult interventional pulmonology program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which has even more sophisticated equipment—such as robotic bronchoscopy—that in some cases is small enough to be used in the pediatric setting.

“It’s been a nice marriage between adult pulmonology at UAB and pediatric pulmonology at Children’s,” Simpson said. The pediatric department has been able to borrow certain equipment or, if needed, send children to UAB pulmonologists for help. “Sort of like: ‘You have the equipment, we have the knowledge, we can work together to get something done that previously we would have never been able to do,’” he said.

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