Mindy Ratliff never dreamed that the process of preparing for surgery would
lead to the discovery of a sleep disorder as well.
She was staying overnight in a Hood River hospital in advance of gallbladder
surgery, just looking for a restful night’s sleep. It didn’t
come, though she was none the wiser at the time. Hospital staff were though.
During the night, they noticed Ratliff wasn’t breathing right while
sleeping. The next morning, she was taken to a Portland hospital for her
surgery and recovery and nurses there also noticed episodes where Ratliff
“They said that I had stopped breathing quite a few times, so it
would be a good idea to check into it. I’m glad I did,” she says.
Ratliff turned to the sleep disorder specialists at MCMC’s Center
for Sleep Medicine. After one overnight stay, she learned she was one
of the estimated 18 million adults in America who suffer from obstructive
sleep apnea, a condition that causes part of the airway to collapse during
sleep when muscles are relaxed. This causes breathing to temporarily stop,
often many times an hour.
Because the brain detects that breathing has stopped and disturbs the sleeping
individual to resume breathing many people with apnea, like Ratliff, are
completely aware these nighttime symptoms are occurring.
That changed after Ratliff’s stay in MCMC’s Sleep Center, where
patients with a range of sleep-related disorders have been diagnosed and
subsequently found relief. Besides sleep apnea, patients are seen with
a range of other sleep-related conditions, including restless leg syndrome,
insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnia.
In an average evaluation, MCMC’s sleep specialists attach small electrodes
and sensors to different parts of the patient’s body to gather data
while the person sleeps. Sensors are used to monitor vital signs such
as brain waves, heart rate and oxygen readings. In Ratliff’s case,
the oxygen readings were particularly important, because they showed how
many times her breathing stopped during the night.
When Ratliff awoke in the Sleep Center she was shocked to discover her
breathing had stopped 96 times in just one hour. The average person with
sleep apnea stops breathing between 20 and 30 times an hour. Regardless
of the number, any time an individual stops breathing it is obviously
a cause for concern.
According to Carol Christiansen, director of MCMC’s Sleep Center,
“If breathing stops repeatedly during the night, air can’t
get to your lungs, resulting in lack of oxygen. The lack of oxygen and
frequent awakenings have negative consequences for one’s health.”
If untreated the condition can lead to an array of health problems, including
high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and heart failure, according to
the American Heart Association. After seeing the results of Ratliff’s
sleep study, her physician, Dr. Tom Hodge, was ready to prescribe CPAP
(continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, the most common treatment
for regulating a patient’s breathing patterns. A CPAP machine is
a device that uses a hose and breathing mask that delivers constant air
pressure through a patient’s airway so he or she can breathe normally
The first night Ratliff slept wearing the CPAP mask she breathed normally
through the night. The next morning, she could instantly notice the difference
the CPAP machine had made. “I guess it was just a little before
six o’clock when I woke up the next morning and I just felt great
– really, really good,” Ratliff recalls.
Ratliff says the quality of her life has changed dramatically since she
began using the CPAP machine. “It’s just awesome,” she
says. “You feel great the next day. You feel so refreshed, like
you finally got enough sleep. I just feel like I really had a good rest,
and I didn’t realize I was missing it before.”
Before her apnea was diagnosed, Ratliff says she would feel tired during
the day, but “I just thought it was a normal thing, a part of getting
older. I have two kids and they keep me going, so I don’t have time
to worrying much about myself.”
Not being aware there is a problem is common among those with sleep apnea,
Christensen says. “Many times patients don’t realize they
are waking due to their obstructive sleep apnea. Their arousals may be
only be seconds but constant. It’s quite often patients will be
told by a spouse, family member, or friend that they have observed them
stop breathing or that they snore excessively.”
Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud or frequent snoring, choking or gasping
while sleeping, daytime tiredness and trouble sleeping.
After her experience, Ratliff encourages anyone who suspects they or a
loved one has a sleep disorder to consider having an evaluation. “Anytime
someone complains about being tired, I say, ‘Oh you should go have
a sleep study done because it makes a world of difference!’”
Ratliff also had high praise for the MCMC Sleep Center staff and facility,
which is located at Water’s Edge on The Dalles waterfront.
“It was so clean and very private; really a nice facility and a wonderful
place to go,” she says. “They made me feel very welcome.”
Ratliff also was pleased to learned the sleep supplies she would need,
including the CPAP machine, were conveniently available at the Sleep Solutions
retail store, also at Water’s Edge.
“It was really convenient, because it’s all in one place and
everybody there is so helpful in helping you get the right pieces,”
she says. “Everything comes in different sizes, and they had me
try everything on to make sure it fits well. They’re very thorough
and very positive, and they’re very good at explaining things in
layman’s terms for me to understand what was going on.”
The Sleep Center at Mid-Columbia Medical Center encourages anyone with
concerns about a possible sleep disorder to consult their primary care
professional or call the center at 541.296.7724. Patients may be referred
for a sleep study by a physician, but self-referrals are also welcome.